Freedom From Religion Foundation v. Chino Valley Unified School District Board of Education (U.S.C.A. 9th Circuit)

Separation of Church & State
Separation of Church & State

This case involves a constitutional challenge to a public school board’s policy of opening meetings with prayer by clergy or board members. Prayers made pursuant to the policy are sectarian and the vast majority of them are Christian in nature. Students have been present or participated at every board meeting since the policy went into effect. Some, such as a student representative who sits on the board and students subject to disciplinary hearings, are required to be at meetings. Others attend meetings to present musical or other performances, receive awards, or generally voice concerns about their education. ADL joined an amicus brief filed by religious and civil-rights organizations representing diverse beliefs and faith traditions. It asserts that the prayer policy does not fall within the narrow historical exception to the strict rule against government-sponsored prayer for invocations to open the sessions of state legislatures and city and county councils. Rather, particularly in light of the “heightened concerns with protecting freedom of conscience from subtle coercive pressure in the elementary and secondary public schools” the policy patently violates longstanding Establishment Clause prohibitions against government endorsement and coercion of religion, as well as preference for particular faiths.