California school district fights for right to pray

by Will Hall, |
Howard Cattle Elementary School is one of 33 schools that are part of the Chino Valley Unified School District. | Facebook/Chino Valley Unified School District

CHINO, Calif. (Christian Examiner) -- Chino Valley Unified School District has voted to fight a lawsuit filed by the anit-Christian Freedom From Religion Foundation based in Wisconsin, that attacks the invocation policy of the schools.

The school board voted unanimously to retain Pacific Justice Institute for the nominal amount of $1.00, which is expected to save taxpayers tens of thousands of dollars in defense costs, according to a press release.

The FFRF, which claims 21,500 members nationwide and 3,360 among California's nearly 39 million population, brought suit in November on behalf of four plaintiffs (a student, two parents and a district employee) to challenge the school district's practice of opening board meetings with a prayer.

The lawsuit claims prayer represents a religious practice  that is "unconstitutional under both the federal and state constitutions" and asks the court to "permanently enjoin the board from any further school-sponsored religious exercises."

However, the school board disputes the FFRF's claim citing a 5-4 ruling in 2014 by the U.S. Supreme Court.

That decision in Town of Greece v. Galloway found the New York municipality's practice of opening meetings with prayer does not violate the Establishment Clause, but is consistent with the tradition long followed by Congress, state legislatures and even the Supreme Court.

Justics Kennedy, writing for the majority, said prayers "delivered during the ceremonial portion of the town's meeting" are simply "recognition" that "many Americans deem that their own existence must be understood by precepts far beyond the authority of government" and "that willing participation in civic affairs can be consistent with a brief acknowledgment of their belief in a higher power, always with due respect for those who adhere to other beliefs."

The case is being heard by U.S. District Judge Jesus Bernal, an Obama appointee.