Sep 15, 2011

The twice-monthly meetings of the Tangipahoa Parish School Board open with an invocation delivered by persons selected by the Board. Past prayergivers have included the Board president, other Board members, the Assistant Superintendent, teachers, students, and ministers. The meetings are open to the public, including to students. The prayers often include references to "Jesus" and "Jesus Christ." Indeed, the School Board, by a vote of 9-0, rejected a proposal to limit the prayers to a "brief non-sectarian, non-proselytizing invocation." The District Court struck down the Board’s practice as violative of the Establishment Clause, and the Board appealed. In August 2005, we submitted an amicus brief to the Fifth Circuit in support of Plaintiff, arguing that the School Board’s practice runs afoul of the prohibition against preferences among religions, that it violates the Lemon test, and that it cannot be justified under the Supreme Court’s decision in Marsh v. Chambers. In December 2006, the Fifth Circuit upheld the lower Court’s ruling that the four Christian prayers presented in the parties’ stipulation of facts violated the Establishment Clause and upheld the District Court’s injunction as it related to those and similar Christian prayers. But noting that "this holding is far more narrow than the relief granted by the permanent injunction at issue" — which barred all prayers — the Court vacated the portion of the injunction applying to other types of prayer. In February 2007, the Court granted rehearing en banc; so we filed a supplemental amicus brief. On July 25, 2007, the Fifth Circuit issued an en banc opinion vacating the District Court’s judgment and dismissing the lawsuit. The Fifth Circuit concluded that Plaintiffs had failed to show that they had standing to sue because there was no evidence in the record that Plaintiffs had attended any Board meetings at which an invocation was given. Plaintiffs have elected not to seek Supreme Court review, so the case has concluded.