• Prayers before public school board meeting unconstitutional

    Date: 10.03.11 | by Judge Tom.
    The Indian River School District in Delaware was founded in 1969. In 2006, the school district passed a prayer policy for it’s school board meetings. Board members were required to rotate in leading a prayer or a moment of silence at the beginning of each meeting. The policy permitted religious or non-religious prayer “in the name of a Supreme Being, Jehovah, Jesus Christ, Buddha, Allah” or any other entity.

    As it turned out, prayers were almost always Christian. Two families challenged the prayers as a violation of the First Amendment’s prohibition against government establishment of religion. Students were often present at the school board meetings as student government representatives, and academic and sports team members.

    Consequently, the school board meetings were akin to other school events such as graduation ceremonies. The Supreme Court ruled in 1992 (Lee v. Weisman) that school-sponsored prayer having a coercive effect on students is unconstitutional.

    Photo by John Beagle (Flickr)

    The Third Circuit Court of Appeals concluded it’s ruling* in Delaware’s case by quoting the 1962 Supreme Court decision in Engel v. Vitale: “It is neither sacrilegious nor anti-religious to say that each separate government in this country should stay out of the business of writing or sanctioning official prayers and leave that purely religious function to the people themselves.” This decision affects Delaware, New Jersey and Pennsylvania – the jurisdiction of the Third Circuit.

    Find out more about prayer in public schools.

    *Doe v. Indian River School District (Third Circuit Court of Appeals, 2011)

    Judge Tom

    This post was written by Judge Tom. Judge Tom is the founder and moderator of AsktheJudge.info. He is a retired juvenile judge and spent 23 years on the bench. He has written several books for lawyers and judges as well as teens and parents including the recently published 'Teen Cyberbullying Investigated' (Free Spirit Publishing). When he's not answering teens' questions, Judge Tom can be found hiking, traveling and reading.

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    2 Comments subscribe to these comments.

    • Tulsa Divorce Lawyers
      Mon, 03 Oct 2011 at 06:27

      I can see why some people who are in attendance would be upset. If the prayer appears on its face to be ‘school-sponsored’, then the prayer is a violation of the first amendment.

    • Askthejudge.info
      Tue, 04 Oct 2011 at 12:50

      New blog post: Prayers before public school board meeting unconstitutional http://t.co/WWLBBg33

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