A federal appeals court soundly rejected an appeal by the American Humanist Association to stop a two-decade tradition of an opening prayer for a Fort Worth, Texas, school district.
According to Reuters, it was a 3-0 decision by the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals which ruled that the Birdville Independent School District was not in violation of the First Amendment by allowing prayer at its meetings.
“The appeals court also reversed a lower court judge's denial of ‘qualified immunity’ to school board members, and dismissed the case against them,” the report added.
A single student of Birdville High School, Isaiah Smith (Class of 2014), contacted the atheist organization for help in challenging the school district claiming “the prayers made him feel unwelcome at the public meetings and that the school board endorsed Christianity.”
As Reuters noted, the Christian prayers have occurred uncontested since 1997 and have been led by elementary and middle school students before the meetings. Attendants are asked to stand during the prayers and some members bow their heads.
Circuit Judge Jerry Smith, a Reagan appointee, wrote that the school board is “more like a legislature” and therefore is not a classroom. Plus, he adds, no one is coerced and those in attendance “are mature adults:”
"Most attendees at school-board meetings, including Smith, are mature adults," and even board members' "polite" requests that the audience stand during invocations "do not coerce prayer," Smith wrote.
The school board celebrated the decision, calling it a “complete vindication.” Its lawyer, D. Craig Wood, added, "The decision is reassuring because these trustees are elected and serve without compensation, and the possibility that they might be personally liable for damages would be somewhat daunting.”