Since 1997, the Birdville Independent School District near Dallas-Fort Worth, Texas, has allowed students to open their school board meetings with a statement. Often those statements turn out to be prayers in the name of Jesus. That didn’t sit well with a gay atheist high school student (who has now graduated) so the American Humanist Association filed a lawsuit on his behalf in 2014.
The district court last August ruled against the American Humanists but also ruled that school board members did not have “qualified immunity” that allows them as government officials to pray at meetings. The American Humanists then appealed since the district court allowed prayers to continue. Monday, a three-judge panel of the Fifth Circuit US Court of Appeals in a unanimous decision handed the humanists a resounding defeat.
The humanists argued that school board members are government officials and should not allow student-led prayer because it violated the First Amendment’s prohibition of government establishing religion. The judges disagreed, stating that a school board is a legislative body and legislative bodies traditionally open with prayer. They also noted that no one at the meetings is ever compelled, or forced, to pray even when politely asked to join in the prayer. Attendees are free to come and go as they please at any time during the meeting, so given all of the factors involved there is no establishment of religion, according to the judges.
Then to cap off their decision, they struck down the district court judge’s conclusion that “qualified immunity” does not apply to school board members. With their qualified immunity now restored and their student-led prayers greenlighted, the Birdville school board is happy they have been vindicated and plan to continue their business as usual with prayers included. The humanists are now considering whether or not to launch another appeal.
The Appellate Court ruling to allow prayers is itself an answer to prayer that proves prayer really works.
For the eyes of the Lord are over the righteous, and his ears are open unto their prayers: but the face of the Lord is against them that do evil. 1 Peter 3:12
Jonathan Stempel (Reuters), Prayer at School Board Meetings Doesn’t Violate Constitution, Court Rules, CharismaNews.com, March 21, 2017.
Merrill Hope, Students Can Open School Board Meetings with Prayers, Appellate Court Rules, Breitbart.com, March 21, 2017.