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Texas School Board Must Stop Christian Prayers at Public Meetings, Demands Humanist Group

For Immediate Release

Contact:

Merrill Miller, 202-238-9088 ext. 105merrillmiller@americanhumanist.org

Monica Miller, 202-238-9088 ext. 120mmiller@americanhumanist.org

(Fort Worth, TX, May 18, 2015)—The American Humanist Association’s Appignani Humanist Legal Center filed a lawsuit against Birdville Independent School District and its school board for violating the First Amendment through its practice of promoting Christian prayers.

According to the lawsuit, filed on behalf of a former student, Isaiah Smith, the school board has had a longstanding policy of choosing students to offer Christian prayers at the beginning of public school board meetings. Smith claims that the prayers made him feel unwelcome at the public meetings and that the school board endorsed Christianity. Students and teachers also regularly attend the meetings.

“School-sponsored Christian prayers at board meetings are discriminatory,” said Monica Miller, an attorney with the Appignani Humanist Legal Center. “This practice is particularly egregious because it invites young, impressionable students to deliver the prayers.” 

“By beginning meetings with Christian prayers, the school board is sending a message that those of minority faiths, and of no faith, are not welcome," said Roy Speckhardt, executive director of the American Humanist Association.

The lawsuit asserts that Birdville Independent School District is a repeat offender of the separation of church and state, including school sponsorship of religious baccalaureate ceremonies, school overnight trips to churches, and inclusion of Christian iconography in classrooms. In addition, Smith was wrongfully suspended from his high school for carrying a ripped Bible as an act of peaceful protest against students who bullied him because of his sexual orientation. The legal center successfully convinced the school district to expunge his record, but it so far refused to cease prayers in school board meetings.

A copy of the lawsuit can be viewed here.

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Founded in 1941 and headquartered in Washington, D.C., the American Humanist Association (AHA) works to protect the rights of humanists, atheists, and other non-religious Americans. The AHA advances the ethical and life-affirming philosophy of humanism, which—without beliefs in any gods or other supernatural forces—encourages individuals to live informed and meaningful lives that aspire to the greater good of humanity.

Special thanks to the Louis J. Appignani Foundation for their support of the Appignani Humanist Legal Center.