Delaware School District’s Push For Christian Prayer Ends At Supreme Court

A Delaware school district has lost its battle to continue Christian prayers before its public meetings.

The U.S. Supreme Court in January announced that it will not hear an appeal of a 2005 lawsuit brought by a Jewish family who challenged the invocations at meetings of the Indian River School District. The high court’s refusal to hear the case brings the matter to a close.

The 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals had earlier ruled in the Doe v. Indian River School District case that since students often attend the school board’s meetings, the official prayers are a violation of church-state separation.

In June of 2010, Americans United filed a friend-of-the-court brief before the appeals court, arguing that the invocation policy is unconstitutional.

Groups signing the brief alongside Americans United included the American Civil Liberties Union, the ACLU of Delaware, People For the American Way Foundation, the American Jewish Committee, the Union for Reform Judaism and the Hindu American Foundation.

Barry W. Lynn, Americans United executive director, said public school boards have a responsibility to obey the Constitution and respect diversity.

“Public school boards,” said Lynn, “serve students of many different faiths and some with no religious affiliation at all. School board meetings, which are often attended by students, should not feature invocations that leave some students out.”

Members of the school board are deliberating their options, but in the meantime, disgruntled community residents have been reciting prayers during the public comment period at board meetings.

A week after the Supreme Court turned down the case, Eric Bodenweiser, a right-wing activist from Georgetown, Del., recited a prayer ending with the words “your son, our savior, Jesus Christ.”

The Salisbury, Md., Daily Times reported that after the meeting, board member Shelly Wilson approached Bodenweiser to thank him for coming.

Bodenweiser vowed to send someone to every meeting to recite a prayer.

The board had been using a moment of silence to open its meetings but now plans to consult with its attorneys about the matter.

The lawsuit was originally brought by two families – the Dobriches and an anonymous family known as “Doe” in court documents. The families also challenged various practices in the Indian River schools that they said promoted Christianity.

Those issues were settled out of court in 2008.