Sep 15, 2011

The South Orange County Community College District operates two community colleges in Orange County, California — Saddleback College and Irvine Valley College.  Members of the District’s Board of Trustees deliver prayers at scholarship-award ceremonies (which are mandatory for students receiving scholarships) and graduations, training programs for faculty, building dedications, and other significant events.  In response to complaints, trustees have embellished the prayers with attacks on religious minorities and nonbelievers:  At Saddleback’s 2008 scholarship ceremony, for example, the Board president justified the prayers by declaring that “the overwhelming majority of our fellow citizens believe [in God],” and dismissed those who are uncomfortable with the official prayers as “too uncertain in the strength of their own views . . . [to] abide any mention in public of the divine.”  And at a 2009 faculty-training program, the District presented a slideshow entitled “God Bless the USA,” which preached that “Jesus Christ . . . died for your soul.”  On November 19, 2009, Americans United challenged the presentations on behalf of five faculty members, two students, and one former student.  We began by seeking a preliminary injunction to have the prayers discontinued while the lawsuit was ongoing.  The district court denied the motion, and we appealed to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit.