Sep 15, 2011

In 1992, the Duval County School Board, a school district with a long history of prayers at high school graduations, approved a "Graduation Prayers" policy encouraging voluntary student "messages" at commencement exercises. Students and parents challenged the new policy, but in 1994, the federal district court granted summary judgment for the School District, thereby allowing the prayers. On appeal, AU joined with other groups in an amicus brief filed on July 25, 1994 and arguing that the challenged policy was unconstitutional. The Eleventh Circuit later dismissed the lawsuit, however, finding the claims moot because the plaintiffs had graduated. Subsequently, in May 1998, a new challenge was brought to the policy, but the district court again denied relief. On June 20, 1998, AU joined an Eleventh Circuit amicus brief arguing that public school graduation ceremonies are not public fora and that the prayers are unconstitutional. A panel of the Circuit agreed in a May 1999 ruling, but that holding was reversed en banc. In October 2000, the U.S. Supreme Court vacated the en banc ruling and remanded the case for further consideration in light of its Santa Fe decision. On May 11, 2001, the Eleventh Circuit reinstated its previous en banc decision, holding that the policy was not facially invalid. The plaintiffs filed a petition for certiorari with the U.S. Supreme Court on August 8, 2001, which was denied in December 2001.