February 2019 Church & State Magazine - February 2019

Court Won’t Rehear California School Board Prayer Case

  Rob Boston

A federal appeals court has ruled that it won’t hear another challenge to a California public school board’s policy dealing with prayers before meetings.

The Chino Valley Unified School District had been opening meetings with prayer and Bible readings. In 2014, the Freedom From Religion Foundation challenged the policy in court.

A federal court struck down the policy, and that ruling was later upheld by the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.

“Unlike a session of Congress or a state legislature, or a meeting of a town board, the Chino Valley Board meetings function as extensions of the educational experience of the district’s public schools,” the appeals court ruled in Freedom From Religion Foundation v. Chino Valley Unified School District. “The presence of large numbers of children and adolescents, in a setting under the control of public-school authorities, is inconsonant with the legislative-prayer tradition.”

The school board asked the entire 9th Circuit panel to rehear the case, but the court declined to do so Dec. 26. Six judges dissented, however, and indicated they would have taken the case.

The case may still be appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court.

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