AU and the ACLU of Louisiana filed suit in December 1999 in federal district court, charging that Louisiana’s removal of the word “silent” from a school prayer statute was unconstitutional. The suit also challenged specific school-sponsored religious practices at the West Monroe High and Junior High Schools in Ouachita Parish, where Christian prayers were regularly read over the loudspeaker and students were allowed to hold prayer circles in the classroom.
In May, 2000, the district court struck down the school prayer law. Subsequently, the School Board agreed to settle the case by halting the religious activities, and the district court awarded attorneys’ fees to the plaintiffs.
The state appealed the statutory ruling to the Fifth Circuit. Legal Director Ayesha Khan presented oral argument to a panel of the Circuit on October 3, 2001.
On December 11, 2001, the court unanimously affirmed the lower court’s ruling, finding that the amendment was enacted with a religious purpose. The Governor subsequently filed for rehearing en banc. However, in April 2002, the Louisiana legislature enacted an amendment to the statute reinserting the word “silent” into the text, thereby curing the constitutional impropriety. In June 2002, the court granted our motion to dismiss the petition for rehearing as moot, thereby concluding the case. We subsequently filed a motion for attorneys’ fees, which the State did not contest.