American Humanists request for certiorari could bring certainty surrounding school board prayer.
The U.S. Supreme Court is being asked to determine whether or not a school board may open its regular public meeting with prayer. Earlier this year, in the case of American Humanist Association v. Birdville ISD, the 5th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals ruled that an opening prayer is permissible for a school board. The 5th Circuit is the federal appellate court over Texas, Louisiana, and Mississippi. The American Humanist Association has asked the U.S. Supreme Court to accept the case and overrule the 5th Circuit.
Federal courts disagree on this question. In 1999, the 6th Circuit, which is over Tennessee, Kentucky, Ohio, and Michigan, ruled that opening prayers are unconstitutional for school boards. In 2011, the 3rd Circuit, which is over Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and Delaware, reached a similar decision.
Adding to the confusion, in 2014 the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in the case of Town of Greece, N.Y. v. Galloway that it is constitutionally permissible for a city council to open with prayer. Opponents argue, however, that school board prayer should be treated differently because minor students are often present in school board meetings.
When will we have an answer?
We expect the Supreme Court will decide before the end of the year whether or not to accept this case. If they do accept it, it is possible they could hear the case and issue a decision on school board prayer by the summer of 2018.
Post by Mark White, APSRC Legal Director