Secularists Petition Supreme Court to Take Up School Board Prayer Case

August 19, 2017

Organizations representing nonreligious Americans as well as Americans of minority faiths are asking the Supreme Court to take up a case involving sectarian prayer at school board meetings. The groups assert the case was wrongfully decided by the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals, which allowed such exclusionary and coercive practices to continue, despite the problematic intertwining of religion and public education.

The coalition, led by the Center for Inquiry,explains in its briefsupporting the American Humanist Association’s petition for the Supreme Court to hear the case that the Fifth Circuit erroneously equated school board meetings with legislative meetings, where the Supreme Court did allow prayer inTown of Greece v. Galloway. Public education requires a significantly greater degree of care and scrutiny to ensure that there is no endorsement of religion and that no student or family feels excluded from the educational system because of their religious beliefs or lack thereof.

The brief was authored by the legal director of the Center for Inquiry (CFI), Nicholas Little, and veteran civil rights attorney, CFI chair Edward Tabash. Representing the largest belief group in the U.S., the unaffiliated, the Center for Inquiry seeks to foster a secular society based on reason, science, freedom of inquiry, and humanist values.

“Prayer in public school marginalizes and alienates nonreligious students and families, as well as those of minority beliefs, and the Supreme Court has repeatedly and wisely ruled that prayer in school settings violates the Constitution’s Establishment Clause,” said Little. “School board meetings are an integral part of the educational system, the focal point at which teachers, administrators, parents, and students set the course for every aspect of public education. Prayer at these meetings is just as marginalizing, just as coercive, and just as unconstitutional, as prayer in a classroom, at a graduation, or at a high school football game.”

In related cases, the Third and Sixth Circuit courts correctly acknowledged the special nature of education and the importance of making sure that education officials avoid the appearance of endorsement of religion. The coalition behind the petition hope to see the Supreme Court reaffirm this precedent on a national basis.

“The United States is becoming more religiously diverse with each passing year, and America’s young people even more so,” said Little. “School boards should be concerned with enriching the minds of those students and encouraging them to learn from each other’s differences. The prayers can wait until the business of education is done.”

CFI’s brief can be downloaded here.     You can support us here.

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 The Center for Inquiry (CFI) is a nonprofit educational, advocacy, and research organization headquartered in Amherst, New York, with executive offices in Washington, D.C. It is also home to the Richard Dawkins Foundation for Reason & Science, the Committee for Skeptical Inquiry, and the Council for Secular Humanism. The Center for Inquiry strives to foster a secular society based on reason, science, freedom of inquiry, and humanist values. Visit CFI on the web