California Court Sides With Atheist Group, Rules Against Policy Allowing Christian Prayers at School Board Meetings

Chino Valley school board president Andrew Cruz and vice president Sylvia Orozco listen to public comment at the Chino Valley Unified School District office in Chino, CA., Thursday, November 3, 2016. (Staff photo by Jennifer Cappuccio Maher/Inland Valley Daily Bulletin/SCNG)

A three-judge panel of the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals has upheld an injunction against a California school board’s policy of allowing school-sponsored Christian prayers at meetings.

In a decision released Wednesday, the panel ruled in favor of the Freedom From Religion Foundation and other plaintiffs against Chino Valley Unified School District.

A Per Curiam opinion, the ruling upheld a lower court decision granting FFRF and local plaintiffs an injunction against the school board practice.

“The Board’s prayer policy and practice violate the Establishment Clause. The invocations to start the open portions of Board meetings are not within the legislative prayer tradition that allows certain types of prayer to open legislative sessions,” read the panel decision in part.

“This is not the sort of solemnizing and unifying prayer, directed at lawmakers themselves and conducted before an audience of mature adults free from coercive pressures to participate, that the legislative-prayer tradition contemplates.”

The panel added that in contrast to past decisions allowing for the presence of sectarian prayers at government meetings, “these prayers typically take place before groups of schoolchildren whose attendance is not truly voluntary and whose relationship to school district officials, including the Board, is not one of full parity.”

The Ninth Circuit judges then applied the Lemon Test to the school board’s practices, arguing that the board’s invocation policy “lacks a secular legislative purpose and therefore … violates the Establishment Clause.”

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SOURCE: Christian Post, Michael Gryboski