(Washington, D.C., October 30, 2017)—The American Humanist Association’s (AHA) Appignani Legal Center filed a reply brief today in the U.S. Supreme Court’s review of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit’s decision upholding a Texas school district’s practice of subjecting its students to prayers at school board meetings.
For nearly thirty years, the Birdville Independent School District’s school board has been inviting students as young as six to open its meetings with prayers and lead the pledges. Students are present at every meeting, and often mandatorily for school credit, to receive recognition for academic or extracurricular achievement, to perform for the Board, or to resolve disciplinary matters. Teachers, administrators, and other students from the district are commonly required to be present at the school board meetings and are asked to stand and join the prayers. School administers in their official capacities also actively endorse and participate in the student prayers.
A month after oral arguments in February, the Fifth Circuit upheld the practice under the narrow legislative-prayer exception, directly contrary to the decisions of the other Circuit Courts that have held that the exception does not cover prayers at school board meetings.
“The Supreme Court has repeatedly held that school districts may not subject their students to prayer and has never made any exception to this rule for school board meetings,” said Monica Miller, senior counsel for the Appignani Humanist Legal Center. “Forcing students to choose between attending board meetings in order to receive school credit or recognition for academic achievements and not attending only to avoid personally offensive religious rituals runs afoul longstanding constitutional principles.”
“The lower court’s decision failed to appreciate the coercive pressures non-religious students face when a prayer is recited in a school-controlled environment consisting of administrators and peers,” said Roy Speckhardt, executive director of the American Humanist Association. “Religious minorities in Texas and elsewhere are relying on the Supreme Court to right this wrong.”
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.