Sep 15, 2011

In 2004, the Indian River School Board adopted a policy for opening its meetings with prayers given by Board members.  While some Board members use their prayer opportunities to present nonsectarian prayer or moments of silence, the majority of the Board members offer explicitly Christian prayers in the name of Jesus Christ.  Parents with students attending schools in the Indian River School District sued the Board in federal court, alleging that the Board’s prayer practice violated the Establishment Clause.  The district court ruled against the parents, and held that the Board’s prayers were constitutional under Supreme Court precedent that allows legislative bodies to open their meetings with prayer.  The parents appealed to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit. 

On June 28, 2010, we filed an amicus brief, joined by other civil-liberties and religious organizations, in support of the parents, arguing that school boards are inherently different from legislative bodies because of their connection to schoolchildren and public education, and that therefore the Supreme Court’s decision to allow legislative prayer should not be extended to school-board prayer.  We further argued that even if the legislative-prayer decision did apply to school boards, that decision allowed for only nonsectarian prayer, while the prayers offered at the Indian River School Board meetings were manifestly Christian.  We therefore asked the Third Circuit to reverse the district court’s decision and to declare the Board’s policy of presenting Christian prayers to be unconstitutional.