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Texas School Board Meeting Prayers Violate the First Amendment

For Immediate Release


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

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

(New Orleans, LA, Mar. 7, 2016)—The American Humanist Association’s Appignani Humanist Legal Center defended its lawsuit challenging school board promotion of prayer against the Birdville Independent School District’s appeal to the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals.

In a brief filed today, the American Humanist Association urges the Fifth Circuit to uphold a Texas district court’s order, which denied Birdville Independent School District board members’ motion to dismiss. Going back to at least 1997, the school district’s Board of Trustees has invited middle and elementary school students, and sometimes high school students, to give prayers at school board meetings, violating the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment. School board members also participate in the prayers, and other students from the district are present at the meetings.

“When public meetings include school-endorsed prayers, they send a divisive message that favors Christians while excluding nonreligious and non-Christian members of the community,” said Roy Speckhardt, executive director of the American Humanist Association. “Students and members of the community have the right to be free from religious coercion at school board meetings.”

“This school board’s practice of endorsing prayer and coercing schoolchildren to participate in religious activity clearly violates the Establishment Clause,” said Monica Miller, senior counsel for the Appignani Humanist Legal Center. “Given decades of precedent, the Fifth Circuit should allow our claims to proceed against the board members, who have demonstrated a reckless and callous indifference to students’ First Amendment rights.”

The American Humanist Association filed suit in May 2015, asserting that the school board prayer practice violates the Establishment Clause.

A copy of the brief can be viewed here, and a copy of the lawsuit can be viewed here.


Founded in 1941 and headquartered in Washington, DC, the American Humanist Association (AHA) works to protect the rights of humanists, atheists, and other nontheistic 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.