Court Halts School Board Prayer.....NOT WITHOUT A FIGHT!

The Chino Valley Unified School District asked Advocates for Faith & Freedom to help them in defending its policy of allowing an opening invocation at their board meetings.

Two years ago, the U.S. Supreme Court upheld the constitutional right of a city council to open its public meetings with an invocation —provided there was a nondiscriminatory process in selecting who offer the prayers.

The Supreme Court commented in Town of Greece v. Galloway that “legislative prayer has become part of our heritage and tradition, part of our expressive idiom, similar to the Pledge of Allegiance, inaugural prayer, or the recitation of ‘God save the United States and this honorable Court’ at the opening of this Court’s sessions….”

In the 1983 Marsh v. Chambers decision, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that the Nebraska Legislature’s chaplaincy prayer practice did not violate the Establishment Clause. In doing so, the ruling noted that legislative prayers were deeply embedded in American history as early as the 1774 Continental Congress, when such prayers were presented through paid chaplains.

Chino Valley Unified School District decided to appeal a recent federal court ruling calling its own prayer policy unconstitutional, even though the board policy adopted in 2013 contained the same stipulations later upheld in the Town of Greece v. Galloway ruling.

In keeping with those long-held and federally recognized provisions, the school district retained Tyler & Bursch, LLP to represent it pro bono on appeal to the Ninth Circuit. Advocates for Faith & Freedom is working in association with Tyler & Bursch, LLP to help underwrite the costs of the appeal.  This case is being defended  by Tyler & Bursch  in order to  minimize the potential bias that we have experienced in the past when advocates for Faith & Freedom is the law firm of record.

Crowd outside Chino Valley School District with captionCVUSD’s prayer policy is nondiscriminatory because it allows clergy from all faiths to present their prayers. To ensure the policy is nondiscriminatory, the district sends out a letter to all religious assemblies inviting them to voluntarily sign-up to participate in the invocation. The militant Freedom from Religion Foundation sued the school district in November 2014.

In February, U.S. District Judge Jesus Bernal ruled against CVUSD saying that the Town of Greece decision allowing prayer before city council meetings did not apply to school districts because of the impressionability of schoolchildren who may attend the meetings.

“The School Board possesses an inherently authoritarian position with respect to the students. The board metes out discipline and awards at these meetings, and sets school policies that directly and immediately affect the students’ lives,” Bernal wrote.

After losing at the district court level, Chino Valley officials asked us to take over their legal representation before the Ninth Circuit Federal Court of Appeals. Our appeal will narrowly focus on the question of whether a school board may begin its meetings with a ceremonial prayer.

We believe this case will have serious ramifications because it is the first one to advance to the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals and is ripe for review by the U.S. Supreme Court. It is also the first case to advance to the appeal level since the Town of Greece case reaffirmed the constitutionality of allowing ceremonial prayers before governmental meetings.

Because this case will require intensive staff time and legal costs throughout most of this year, we are asking that you please consider contributing to our defense fund. We seriously need additional financial support today to take on this battle. Whether you can afford to give $5, $25, or $1,000, it all matters and is greatly appreciated! We can’t afford to let a small minority of people and a radical organization redefine our way of life. To do so fosters tyranny of the worst kind. Thank you for your prayerful consideration to this cause. If you would like to donate to Advocates, click here.

Press Release 3-17-16

17 Opening Brief_4-26-17