Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Justices Decline to Weigh Prayers at School Board Meetings

This from the School Law Blog: http://blogs.edweek.org/edweek/school_law/2012/01

The U.S. Supreme Court on Tuesday declined to take up the issue of prayers at school board meetings.

The justices declined to hear the appeal of a school board in Delaware, which had its practice of reciting prayers before its public board meetings struck down by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 3rd Circuit, in Philadelphia.

Prayers before school board meetings are commonplace in the United States, though certainly not universal.

The Delaware case involved the 8,400-student Indian River school district, which has had prayers at its board meetings since its founding in 1969, court papers say. In 2004, the district formalized its board meeting prayer policy, which calls for board members to rotate in leading a prayer or moment of silence to "solemnify" formal meetings. The policy says prayers may be sectarian or non-sectarian, "in the name of a Supreme Being, Jehovah, Jesus Christ, Buddha, Allah," or any other entity.

Court papers say that, in practice, prayers have almost always been Christian.

Two families challenged the board prayers as a violation of the First Amendment's prohibition against government establishment of religion. A federal district court upheld the practice. But in its Aug. 5 decision, the 3rd Circuit court panel said the board's policy and practices cannot be squared with the establishment clause.

The 3rd Circuit court said the key question was whether the school board's meetings and prayers were closer to the legislative prayers upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court in the 1983 case of Marsh v. Chambers, or more like other school events in which the high court's cases have limited school-sponsored prayers.

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