A.M. ex rel. McKay v. Taconic Hills Central School District

AU's Role: 
AU's Involvement Began: 
June 2012

A middle-school student in the Taconic Hills Central School District in New York was invited to deliver a speech at the school's graduation ceremony. After she submitted a draft of her speech to school administrators for their approval, the school notified her that she was not permitted to conclude the speech with a religious message.

In January 2010, the student filed suit against the school district, arguing that she had a free-speech right to delivering a religious message at the previous year's graduation. The trial court ruled in favor of the school district in January 2012, concluding that student graduation speeches are school-sponsored and that the school reasonably prohibited religious messages to avoid violating the Establishment Clause.

The plaintiff appealed this ruling to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit. In June 2012, we filed an amicus brief supporting the school district. Our brief detailed the long history of federal court rulings that the Establishment Clause prohibits public schools from sponsoring or promoting prayer in schools, including prayers in student speeches at school events such as graduation ceremonies.

In January 2013, a panel of the Second Circuit unanimously agreed that the school district had the right to ask the student to remove the religious message from her graduation speech, in order to ensure that the graduation ceremony did not unlawfully promote religion.