Thursday, July 26, 2007

5th Circuit, En Banc, Finds No Standing In School Board Prayer Case

By a vote of 8-7, the U.S. Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals yesterday, sitting en banc, held that plaintiffs lacked standing to challenge Tangipahoa Parish School Board's practice of opening its meetings with a prayer. In Doe v. Tangipahoa Parish School Board, (5th Cir., July 25, 2007), the majority, in an opinion by Chief Judge Edith Jones, said that there was no evidence in the record that plaintiffs ever attended a school board meeting where a prayer like those challenged was recited.

In a "special concurrence", Judge Moss was unusually critical of the Supreme Court. He wrote:
The Supreme Court cannot continue to speak out of both sides of its mouth if it intends to provide real guidance to federal courts.... [I]t cannot continue to hold expressly that the injury in fact requirement is no different for Establishment Clause cases, while it implicitly assumes standing in cases where the alleged injury, in a non-Establishment Clause case, would not get the plaintiff into the courthouse. This double standard must be corrected because ... it opens the courts' doors to a group of plaintiffs who have no complaint other than they dislike any government reference to God.
Dissenters, in two separate opinions, argued that the trial court's pre-trial order makes clear that plaintiffs' attendance at board meetings was not a contested issue and that defendants impliedly admitted those facts. 2theadvocate reports on the decision. The splintered 3-judge panel decision in the case was discussed in a previous posting. [Thanks to Alliance Alert for the lead.]