As I have previously discussed with many of you, on February 25, 2005, a federal district court in Louisiana found prayer at school board meetings to be unconstitutional. Since this case, I have cautioned school districts about prayer at board meetings. On December 15, 2006, the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals addressed this case and issued a very important decision regarding prayer at school board meetings.
The Fifth Circuit addressed the following prayers:
- Heavenly Father, we thank you for the many blessings we’ve received. We thank you for our health. We thank you for our strength. We thank you for our peace of mind. We thank you for allowing us to assemble here tonight, and we ask that you give this Board and our, Superintendent all the wisdom and the knowledge, and the understanding they need to make the correct decisions for our students and for our parents. Also Lord, we ask that you throw your strong arm of protection around our President and around his Cabinet Members, to help him make the right decisions that will affect thousands of U.S. soldiers, airmen, and marines, at this time. We ask that you give him the same wisdom that you gave Solomon in making decisions that’s [sic] best for our country. Also, we thank you for the greatest gift of all — your darling son, Jesus Christ. For we all know that He was born, died, and rose again, so that we all may be forgiven for our sins. And Lord, as we leave this meeting tonight, we ask that you guide us safely to our various abodes. These things we ask in your darling son, Jesus Christ’s[,] name. Amen.
- Almighty God, we make our earnest prayer that Thou wilt keep the United States in thy holy protection, that Thou wilt incline in the hearts of the citizens to cultivate a spirit of subordination and obedience to government, and entertain a brotherly affection and love for one another and for their fellow citizens of the United States at large. And finally that Thou wilt most graciously be pleased to dispose us all to do justice, to love mercy, and to demean ourselves with that charity, humility, and pacific temper of mind which were the characteristics of the Divine [sic] Author of our blessed religion, and without an [sic] humble imitation of whose example in these things, we can never hope to be a happy nation. Grant our supplications, we beseech Thee, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
- Heavenly Father, we thank you for all the blessings that you have given us. Let us not take for granted that each breath that we take is a blessing from you, and even though we don’t understand the hardships that are put before us at different times in our lives, let us always remember that the experiences that we go through have a purpose and even though we don’t understand the purpose, it is your desire that we have each and every experience on this earth, for without you we have nothing. Watch over our soldiers that are overseas. Please keep them safe. Please soften the hearts of our adversaries and help them see that we are trying to do what we believe is good and right and to bring freedom to people that have been oppressed. Please guide all the people in this room that are in charge of setting the education of our children and setting the future of our children. Let all of us keep in mind that we have one focus and that is what is best for our children. Let us keep them at the front of all our decision-making processes. Let us do everything to bring glory and honor to your name, and we ask all of these things through Your Son, Jesus Christ. Amen.
- Father, we Thank You for Your many blessings. Father, we are grateful for the opportunity to live in this country, the greatest country on this planet. God, we have the freedom to choose, to live our lives as we please. We have the opportunity to pursue any goals we so desire. Lord, this big Board — group of people meeting here tonight has an awesome responsibility to see that each and every child in the parish has the opportunity, and the chance to prepare themselves to the fullest to live their adult lives. God, we just pray that we in this parish will have the guidance and the wisdom to make it happen. In your name we pray. Amen.
The Court stated “In allowing such explicit references to Jesus Christ, in selecting other persons to offer prayers who also referred exclusively to the Christian deity, and in demonstrating an unwillingness to adopt a policy that would have forbidden such references, the Board engaged in what Marsh forbids.” The acceptable prayers in Marsh had no evidence of an intent to proselytize, or advance, any religion, and no threat of an establishment of religion. The Court did not express an opinion on whether another form of prayer is permissible at Board meetings. Rather, the Court concluded that these prayers did not pass constitutional muster.
What does this case mean for your district? Answer, we don’t really know. The Court gave us examples of what is prohibited, but did not give us examples of what is acceptable. We know that prayer will violate the Establishment Clause if it is sectarian or proselytizing. I expect this case to be appealed to the United States Supreme Court. Unfortunately, until this case is finally decided by the Supreme Court or another case gives us clear guidance, I suspect prayer at school board meetings will continue to be challenged by future plaintiffs.