Monday, March 27, 2017

5th Circuit Upholds Student Invocations At School Board Meetings

In American Humanist Association v. McCarty, (5th Cir., March 20, 2017), the U.S. 5th Circuit Court of Appeals upheld a school board's practice of opening its meetings with presentations from students, which often involves a prayer.  As described by the court:
Since 1997, two students have opened each session—with one leading the Pledge of Allegiance and the Texas pledge and the other delivering some sort of statement, which can include an invocation. Those student presenters, typically either elementary- or middle-school students, are given one minute. [School board] officials do not direct them on what to say but tell them to make sure their statements are relevant to school-board meetings and not obscene or otherwise inappropriate. At a number of meetings, the student speakers have presented poems or read secular statements. But ... they are usually an invocation in the form of a prayer, with speakers frequently referencing “Jesus” or “Christ.”
Upholding the practice, the court said that the  in part:
The key question ... is whether this case is essentially more a legislative-prayer case or a school-prayer matter....We agree with the district court that “a school board is more like a legislature than a school classroom or event.” The BISD board is a deliberative body, charged with overseeing the district’s public schools, adopting budgets, collecting taxes, conducting elections, issuing bonds, and other tasks that are undeniably legislative....
In a press release, the American Humanist Association indicates that it will file a petition to seek an en banc rehearing in the case.