Supreme Court declines to hear challenge to student-led prayer at Texas school district

(Pixabay/Myriams-Fotos)The U.S. Supreme Court has declined to hear a case challenging a Texas school district's policy of allowing students to lead prayers before board meetings.

The U.S. Supreme Court has announced on Monday that it will not hear a case challenging a North Texas school board policy that allows students to open its meetings with prayers.

The American Humanist Association (AHA) filed the lawsuit against the Birdville Independent School District two years ago on behalf of a 2014 Birdville High School graduate Isaiah Smith, who complained that the prayers made him uncomfortable because he believed that the district was "favoring religion over nonreligion."

According to Baptist Standard, the district allows tow students to speak at the beginning of school board meetings. One student leads the Pledge of Allegiance to the U.S. and Texas flags, while the other offers a brief statement, which is often in a form of prayer.

The brief statement was initially called the "student invocation," but the district changed the name to "student expression" after the AHA asserted that the practice of having students pray before a meeting was inappropriate.

In March, the Fifth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals rejected Smith's argument that the school board's policy violated the First Amendment. The appellate court contended that the prayers fit within the exception to the Establishment Clause that allows legislative and deliberative bodies to offer prayers in government buildings.

"Although it is possible to imagine a school-board student-expression practice that offends the Establishment Clause, this one, under its specific facts, does not," the circuit court ruled.

Fox News noted that the case was initially filed in the Northern District of Texas, which ruled in favor of the district. The Supreme Court's refusal to review the case allows the Fifth Circuit ruling to stand.

AHA Executive Director Roy Speckhardt said that the Supreme Court was allowing an "unfair and inappropriate practice to continue" by rejecting the petition for a hearing.

He argued that the court disregarded "the serious coercion students face when a prayer is recited in a school-controlled environment with teachers and administrators watching and participating."

Smith expressed disappointment with the decision, but he said he will "keep on fighting for the constitution and the principals of the constitution."

Following the high court's announcement that it will not hear the case, Superintendent Darrell Brown of the Birdville schools issued a statement saying the district was "vindicated" by the judicial system.

"The speeches given by students at the board meetings are their own—not something they are told to say. Occasionally, students will open the meeting with a prayer. We believe the students have the right to express themselves in this manner if they choose," said Brown.

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