Appeals Court Unanimously Rules Prayers During Texas School Board’s Meetings Are Constitutional

FORT WORTH, Texas — A federal appeals court has ruled unanimously that prayers presented at board meetings for a Texas school district are constitutional and do not violate the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment.

The Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals in New Orleans ruled 3-0 on Monday that the prayers offered by students during the meetings of the Birdville Independent School District are more like those presented in a legislative body rather than a classroom. It pointed to the nation’s history and longstanding practice of presenting prayer at public events.

“[D]ating from the early nineteenth century, at least eight states had some history of opening prayers at school-board meetings,” Judge Jerry Smith wrote on behalf of the panel on Monday. “And [Supreme Court rulings] show that there was a well-established practice of opening meetings of deliberative bodies with invocations. Such practices date from the First Congress, which suggests that ‘the Framers considered legislative prayer a benign acknowledgement of religion’s role in society.’”

The court also pointed to the 2012 U.S. Supreme Court ruling in Town of Greece v. Galloway, which ruled in favor of non-coercive prayers presented during city hall meetings in Greece, New York. It likewise noted that students voluntarily present the prayers—not board members, and rejected the notion it is illegal for members of the board to participate in the invocations by bowing their heads.

“It would be nonsensical to permit legislative prayers but bar the legislative officers for whom they are being primarily recited from participating in the prayers in any way,” Smith wrote. “Indeed, the Supreme Court did not take issue with the fact that Town of Greece board members bowed their heads during invocations.”

And while students or board members may sometimes ask those present to stand during the prayer, “[t]hose polite requests, however, do not coerce prayer,” the court concluded.

As previously reported, the American Humanist Association (AHA) filed suit against the Birdville Independent School District in 2015 on behalf of now 21-year-old Isaiah Smith, who believed that the district was wrongfully endorsing Christianity through the invocations.

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Smith had first made headlines in 2013 when he was suspended from school for ripping pages of Leviticus out of his Bible during Spanish class. As previously reported, Smith was advised that he was causing a disruption to the learning environment by tearing up his Bible in class.

In the AHA suit, Smith said that the prayers made him feel like an outsider at the meetings, which he says he attended as a student and continues to attend as an alumnus.

“Plaintiff Smith considers the school board’s prayers to be divisive and exclusionary, leaving him to conclude that he is unwelcome at school board meetings and a political outsider in his own community,” the suit explained.

U.S. District Judge John McBryde, nominated to the bench by then-President George H.W. Bush, ruled in favor of Smith in August. The district appealed, and on Monday, the Fifth Circuit overturned McBryde’s ruling.

“[I]n Marsh v. Chambers, a member of the Nebraska legislature sued state officials, claiming that the practice of opening each session with a chaplain’s prayer violated the Establishment Clause. The court upheld the practice without applying any of the conventional tests, observing that ‘[t]he opening of sessions of legislative and
other deliberative public bodies with prayer is deeply embedded in the history and tradition of this country,'” the unanimous circuit court noted.


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  • Jason Todd

    Every once in a while, you hear about judges who actually decide to rule on the side of the Constitution instead of their personal feelings.

    This is one of those times.

    • Ambulance Chaser

      Don’t get too excited about this ruling; as a guy who thinks courts don’t follow case law, you’re going to be in for a very rude awakening if you read the decision. (Of course, since case law is endemic to the legal system, it might be surprisingly enlightening if you read ANY ruling, because I’m willing to bet you never have.)

      In any case, the question before the court was whether to apply the “school prayer” standard in Santa Fe ISD v. Doe, Engel v. Vitale, and Abington v. Schempp, or the “legislative prayer” standard established by Greece v. Galloway.

      The 5th Circuit ruled that it should be treated like a legislative prayer, which means that it’s subject to the restrictions laid out in Greece, including the fact that members of any religion, including atheists, Muslims, and pagans, have to have the same right to deliver an invocation.

      I don’t know what you think this ruling held or how the 5th Circuit got there, but I guarantee it isn’t what you’re envisioning.

      • Amos Moses

        well they never followed case law in RvWade ………… numerous times courts have ruled where there was no case law …… hence we get the UNPRECEDENTED ruling …… as was Roe ……….

      • Royce E. Van Blaricome

        Just remember for the past several days YOU are the one who’s been on here touting how rulings are settled law and must be followed. I told you the tide was turning and you came back with your snarky little remark to name a case. Well bub, here ya go! Chew on this one for awhile. There’s more to come.

        And remember, YOU are the one that has to support this ruling now based on all your prior comments.

        Gotta love it!

        • Ambulance Chaser

          Yes, I do, but it’s only within the 5th Circuit, and won’t continue to apply if it’s overturned by SCOTUS or by statute. What point are you trying to make, exactly? Accusing me of hypocrisy I never said?

          • Royce E. Van Blaricome

            Thanks for proving my case. Just watch what they write themselves folks. They do a good enough job of destroying their own credibility that we don’t have to say anything. LOL

          • Ambulance Chaser

            Excuse me? What point, exactly, are you trying to make?

          • Royce E. Van Blaricome

            You’re excused.

  • Grace Kim Kwon

    Like most other Western nations are, the USA was founded to live out the Christianity. The nations had no purpose of existance apart from Christianity. Talking about the US Constitution apart from the Judeo-Christian values is altogether vain, since the lawfulness of the Western nations therefore the whole world is built based on the Christian religion, the only good thing on earth. Americans must realize that they are regressing back to the evil slavery that enslaves human souls by rejecting the Christianity. No-Christianity means no-truth, no-freedom, no-civility, and no-lawfulness. Man needs God to do what is right. America’s sunset is visible, but may America not go down like a mere villain in history but get revived by its faithful Biblical Christian population, its only hope.

    • RWH

      The United States was never intended to be founded as a Christian republic. The word God appears nowhere in the Declaration nor the Constitution. Thomas Jefferson made this abundantly clear. We live in a plurality, and we have found ways of negotiating our differences to live in harmony. We don’t want our schools teaching a “Christian education.” To do so means that one particular church and its doctrines will be privileged to the exclusion of others. If parents want their children to have a “Christian education,” they can send them to a parochial school, or they can send them to Sunday School.

      • Grace Kim Kwon

        Americans and American founders all expected all Americans to be Christian-civilized. To the white race, being Unchristian meant being uncivilized. They had no other values. It’s so weird to see the Western whites attacking the Christianity this century. A picture of some rotten kids trying to murder their own good parents… Homosexuality’s sick inclination’s phenomenon. You guys should be at least grateful to the Christians.

        • RWH

          This is not true at all. Many of the signers of the Declaration were Deists, people who rejected the cardinal doctrines of Christianity. Jefferson even wrote his own version of the Bible which excluded the deity of Christ and all of the miracles.

          You can’t prove intentions. All we can go by are written documents, and none of those documents support your claim.

          As an aside, most of the people living out in the wilderness at the time of the American Revolution had no use for religion whatsoever. They had, at best, common-law marriages.

          I don’t know where you get these ideas of kids murdering parents and all that. It happens, but not to the extent that you think it would be commonplace or newsworthy.

          And why should we be grateful to these people because they were Christians. They do not represent what the majority of us are. Most were very nominal members of the Church of England at the time.

          • Grace Kim Kwon

            Ya, the Christian ones. Americans knew no other. I’d be so nice if Americans are not Sodomic or Anti-christian just once again.

          • RWH

            Americans by in large are not so obsessed with gays as you are. You give them way too much power. Furthermore, Colonial Americans were a lot more knowledgeable than you think they were. We have all of the records of church meetings on file in a database called Evans Early American Imprints. Those churches that were Calvinist in their thinking sided with those who wanted independence. The Lutherans, the Anglicans, and the Catholics (among others) all wrote resolutions supporting King George III.

            At the time of the signing of the Declaration, only about 25% of the population supported it. The tide turned as the British became more intrusive as the war went on and took steps to oppress the local populations. When the war ended, there was a huge migration of people loyal to the Crown to Canada. That is why the relationship between the US and Canada was pretty much sour until World War I.

          • Reason0verhate

            Old woman.

            People who major in education are in the bottom tier of college students. Of all the college-educated professions in America, teachers are the dumbest. No wonder the kids turn out brain-dead.

          • RWH

            Are you making this stuff up off of the top of your head, or did you get it off a Dill Comic Book? If I said something that is wrong, point it out and tell us what the real deal is. However, if you do, be sure to provide your sources so that we can verify if you’re telling the truth.

          • Grace Kim Kwon

            Liberals do that on purpose to take control. All Americans need the Holy Bible to be free, even the white people nowadays.

          • Grace Kim Kwon

            Ya, both USA and Canada were created to spread the Christian religion. Your number 25% excluded the women and colored so it’s completely invalid.

          • RWH

            Grace, why don’t you do some serious research for a change? You keep on pulling this garbage of yours from the think air, and I keep on proving you wrong. We have the documents. You don’t. You have no proof that women and “the colored” didn’t count. All we have is a lot of hot air coming from your direction.

          • Grace Kim Kwon

            You have nothing to prove until you stop the support of infanticide and homosexual depravity. That is altogether Non-christian. You must repent of supporting of the evil.

          • RWH

            Well, that is a pretty sloppy response to my request that you prove what you say with documentation. I’m not responsible for your obsessions with the gays and abortion. Roe v. Wade is the law of the land, and the gays have every right that the rest of us have. You don’t get to trump our laws.

          • Grace Kim Kwon

            America’s top problems and crises are blasphemy, abortion-murder, and homosexual immorality. Sin has no equal rights. The world has to battle against West’s Sodomic perversion as well as other social evils to keep human rights and freedom.

          • RWH

            Well, Grace, you can cry and moan all you want. In a constitutional democracy, people have the rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. None of these rights hinge on you approval.

            You keep on harping about “Sodomic perversion.” How is this perversion worse than any other perversion? After all, Hollywood and other media outlets have been promoting alcoholism, sex outside of marriage, extreme violence, and all sorts of depravity for years now. Why are you ignoring all this in favor of going after the gays? And exactly how are those horrible gays taking away your human rights and freedom?

            Please give us concrete answers. We have already heard your sermons ad nausium.

          • Bob Johnson

            “…most of the people living out in the wilderness at the time of the American Revolution had no use for religion whatsoever.”

            I remember visiting Old Sturbridge Village, where the docents pointed out that in a New England village of 1830 there were only enough pews for 10% to 15% of the population. Most folks did not go to church.

          • Grace Kim Kwon

            Those folks were illiterate men. Europeans and Americans always respected Christianity. Non-christian white men were not considered civilized.

      • Amos Moses

        “God appears nowhere in the Declaration nor the Constitution.”

        We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.

        ………. endowed by their Creator …….. you are funny ………

        • james blue

          So the flying spaghetti monster?

          • Amos Moses

            mmmmmm …. nope …

        • RWH

          The word “Creator” is an ambiguous term at best. It does not refer to a personal god, and it especially does not refer to the Triune God of Christianity. Many of the signers were Deists and would have never signed a document that is exclusively Christian or alluded to a personal god.

          • Amos Moses

            The Creator only had one meaning to them …………. it is not a personal god …… it is the God of all ….. as it is CAPITALIZED ……….

          • RWH

            Sorry, Amos. If you did some real historical research, you would discover that they used the term Creator as a rhetorical device. The Deists did not believe in a personal god and they would have not consented to sign any document that implied a personal god. Any constitutional scholar could tell you the exact same thing. So, may I suggest that you consult some serious scholars instead of shooting from the hip.

          • Amos Moses

            So you ADMIT you were wrong and it DOES IN FACT mention God ……….. Thanx ………

          • RWH

            Amos, nowhere in my answer to you implied that they believed in a personal god. They believed in a god who was a great clockmaker who wound up a clock and then departed for parts unknown. They did not believe in prayer because the prayers would have not gone anywhere. There was no receiver of those prayers. There is a huge difference between belief in an abstract commodity than in a personal being that we can define as God. In fact, their position really amounted to atheism except that people at that time couldn’t conceive of an atheist. It’s like the concept existed before the term was coined.

  • Grace Kim Kwon

    Co-existence for the sake of co-existence is nothing; it only strengthens the villains and the people become victims in the pot. The USA needs a righteous direction to be driven towards. Everyone needs Christian education to find God’s truth and life’s meaning and to live decently. America needs Jesus for salvation and for the truthful living.

    • Bezukhov

      Everyone needs Christian education…

      Suppose someone doesn’t want it?

      • Grace Kim Kwon

        Why not? It is a good education. Christian education should be made free in North America. Only an atheistic and Sodomic education is free and being enforced by the government. People have no choice or freedom in America.

        • Bezukhov

          Just suppose. Will arms be twisted to get maximum compliance?

          Nothing is free. Show me a scripture where Jesus said to knock someone on the head, take their money, and use it to fund Christian Education.

          Just for the record I’m an Anarcho-Capitalist. To me all taxes are evil, whether they be used to further an atheistic and Sodomic education, or a Christian one.

          • Grace Kim Kwon

            Jesus commanded His followers to evangelize and teach everyone. Christian education is gratefully to be received; it is charity. Taxes do colletive good to build roads and railroads and some other useful things for all. Every child needs education, rich or poor; that’s why government pays for it using tax money.

          • Jason Todd

            Good for you. You just gave me reason to block you.

          • Bezukhov

            What reason would that be?

          • Ambulance Chaser

            You made points that cause him cognitive dissonance.

          • Bezukhov

            Should I apologize?

          • Ambulance Chaser

            I wouldn’t. He won’t see it, and you didn’t do anything wrong.

        • RWH

          People have lots of choices. They can send their children to any school they want, or they can choose to homeschool. They just can’t do it on our dime. A lot of people who strongly believe in school choice will be rethinking their positions once the Moslems start their own school system where children are indoctrinated into all sorts of things that some see as un-American. Once that they realize that they can’t stop these people from building their own schools, they’ll have a really hard time should they realize that they have to help pay for this education out of their pockets. That’s why we have public schools. We may not like everything in them, but they are a leveling ground, and they teach kids how to play nice with each other. Yes, people have choices, but they must be willing to foot the bill for those choices as well.

  • antifasciste

    A meeting that begins with a prayer provides a great time to catch up on messages on my phone. Or, quietly chant a mantra.

  • Grace Kim Kwon

    America, be thankful to God and to His Christians, and the world will repect you again. No glory to playboys and to parent-bashers; glory is only for godly and brave men who conduct the truth. Americans should ask what is good and godly instead of just what is constitutional. The picture content is unequally far more valuable than a mere frame.

    • RWH

      Someday, when you create your own alternate universe, you can have a world ruled directly by “godly” and “brave” men. We’re already experienced the Inquisition and the other bloody religious wars where different visions of “godly” and “brave” were part of the mythology. No thanks. We want a government where no religious strongman forces his will on everyone. For someone who wants to live in America, you have no concept of what America is all about and how we think as Americans. We’re not interested in your brand of Christianity, which apparently sees the need to put down “heresy” with governmental mandates and brute force.

  • Grace Kim Kwon

    America, this should be your quest, and the US Constitution was created only to make such quest possible: “He(God) has shown you, O man, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justly, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God? The Lord’s voice cries to the city — Wisdom shall see Your name.” (Micah chapter 6)

  • NCOriolesFan

    Elected officials have the same Constitutional rights in their office like the people have. Just because they’re elected does NOT mean they sacrifice their rights at the altar of appeasement, bigotry or whatever else the left can think of to TRY and deprive them of their rights.

    • RWH

      No, these elected officials can be voted out of office, and the people can put together a recall. Years ago, a couple of stealth candidates ran for a local school board. When they took their seats, they started on a campaign to dismantle a lot of good things that the school was doing in order “to save money” and to “stop the Commies.” Other citizens saw what harm these people were doing and conducted a recall election and booted them out fast. There are lots of candidates who fly false colors, and there are a lot of candidates that are booted out fast when people see their true colors.

    • Ambulance Chaser

      No, but they can’t do everything IN THEIR CAPACITY as elected officials that they can do as individuals.

  • Royce E. Van Blaricome

    Where’s all the temper tantrums, stomping of feet, screaming about “Separation of Church & State” now? Funny thing about Truth, it always wins in the end. All I’ve seen for the last 3 days is how the Constitution says this and says that about no public display of religion and separation of Church & State and blah blah blah.

    And yet, in one District Court ruling that’s all gone out the window. LOL Now, standby to see the onslaught of hypocrisy as all those who constantly talk about the requirement to obey court rulings and them being the law of the land find some way to go against everything they’ve been touting for so long. LOL

    • Ambulance Chaser

      So, are you going to tell us what this great hypocrisy is that we’re supposedly all committing?

      • Royce E. Van Blaricome

        It’s right there for all to see. That you can’t only shows your further blindness. And it’s not “supposedly”.

        • Ambulance Chaser

          Yeah, thought so. Yet another non-answer/insult.

          • Royce E. Van Blaricome

            Take it however you please. That’s of no consequence to me.