A federal appeals court in New Orleans will be asked to reconsider its ruling allowing student-led prayer at Birdville school board meetings.
On Monday, a three-judge panel of the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals unanimously ruled that such prayers don’t run afoul of the prohibition against government-established religion.
The American Humanist Association, a plaintiff in the case, disagreed. Monica Miller, a lawyer with the group, said in an interview Wednesday that a request for a hearing by the full 15-member court will be filed in the next two weeks.
Conservative groups are applauding the decision. “This is a stinging rebuke to groups that want to cleanse America of prayer,” Mat Starver, chairman of the Florida-based Liberty Counsel, said in a Wednesday news release.
The opinion noted that the Birdville school board meetings are held in an administration building — not in a school. People attending can enter and leave at any time, including during the prayer. It said the board meetings open with a student-led Pledge of Allegiance and a statement that can include a prayer, although the statements are sometimes secular.
The panel noted a 2014 Supreme Court ruling allowing prayers at a town council meeting in Greece, N.Y., and said the prayers at the Birdville school board fall under that “legislative prayer exception.”
“The panel’s ruling is unprecedented and directly conflicts with precedent from the other appeals courts that have addressed this issue,” Miller, with the AHA’s Appignani Humanist Legal Center, said in a news release.