A school board is battling the ACLU in court for the right to open its meetings with prayers that invoke “God,” “Heavenly Father” and “Jesus.”
The Tangipahoa Parish School Board in Louisiana is appealing a federal judge’s ruling that such prayers violated the Establishment Clause of the United States Constitution, which says “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion.”
The Thomas More Law Center, a public-interest law firm, has submitted a friend-of-the-court brief with the United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit in support of the school district.
Richard Thompson, the Law Center’s chief counsel, said the case is “just another example of the concerted effort to destroy the religious foundations of our nation.”
“Acknowledging beliefs that are widely held among the American people is not a violation of the Constitution,” he said.
The school board — which has opened each of its meetings with a prayer, followed by the Pledge of Allegiance, for more than 30 years — argues the invocations impose no restriction on any religious viewpoint, and any person who wants to lead the prayer may do so regardless of his religious beliefs.
In 2003, however, a parent of two high school students in the district, represented by the ACLU, filed a lawsuit claiming the invocations were unconstitutional.
The trial judge recognized it is constitutional for legislative or deliberative bodies to begin meetings with prayer, but she ruled the principle did not apply to the school board.
The Thomas More Law Center argues that the school board is a deliberative body under Louisiana law; its meetings are held separately from classroom and school-related activities; and students are not required to attend the meetings.
In its brief, the law firm pointed out that sessions of the U. S. House of Representatives begin with prayers making reference to “God,” “Heavenly Father” and “Jesus.” The prayers also offer thanksgiving and seek wisdom, guidance, forgiveness and protection.
The school board’s prayers are not different in any material respect, the brief asserts.
Edward L. White III, an attorney with the Law Center who drafted the brief, argued the “prayers said to start Tangipahoa Parish School Board meetings are as constitutional as those said to start any other meeting of a legislative or deliberative body, including the House of Representatives.”
“It is a deeply embedded part of the history and tradition of this country for deliberative bodies to open their sessions with prayer,” he said.
Last week, a state Senate panel approved a resolution expressing support of the Legislature for prayer at school board meetings.
The resolution says prayer is protected and follows the country’s founding principles.