Monday, March 01, 2010

Nope. No Discrimination Or Proselytizing Here.

Here's a ruling that cries out for reversal:
A federal judge in Delaware ruled Monday that it is constitutional for the Indian River School Board to open its meetings with Christian prayers, a ruling that could broaden what's allowed at school board meetings throughout the state.

In a
57-page opinion dated Sunday but not made public until late Monday, [retiring] District Judge Joseph J. Farnan Jr. threw out a lawsuit brought by "Jane and John Doe" against the Sussex County school district that charged the board's practice violated the constitutional separation of church and state.

Farnan found that the elected school board is closer to a legislative body than a school, and therefore a prayer is permissible.

"Although reasonable people can differ as to whether the board's policy is wise, could be more inclusive or is actually necessary to solemnize board meetings, 'too much judicial fine-tuning of legislative prayer policies risks unwarranted interference in [a legislative body],' " Farnan wrote.

The judge concluded that the Indian River School Board did not use its prayer policy "to proselytize or advance religion," so he believed that the court "may not demand anything further" of the board.

The article goes on to explain that:

The lawsuit charged the district created "an environment of religious exclusion" through the use of often explicitly Christian prayers at school board meetings, athletic events, banquets and graduation services. The federal civil suit also charged that students involved in Christian religious groups received preferential treatment, one district teacher told his class there is "only one true religion" and a science teacher told her class she did not believe in the big bang theory and then encouraged students to attend the Bible club to learn more.

The Dobriches claimed they were harassed and felt they had no choice but to file a lawsuit after Mona Dobrich complained about a Christian prayer offered at her daughter's June 2004 graduation. She said abuse and harassment increased after the lawsuit was filed.

In part because of fears of harassment, Farnan allowed the second family in the lawsuit to remain anonymous.

A year ago, the district settled the bulk of the lawsuit relating to its schools and school activities. The district made an undisclosed payment to the families, promised not to promote a specific religion and adopted new policies the plaintiffs helped draft encouraging tolerance. The district also instituted new procedures to handle complaints about diversity issues.

The settlement intentionally left out the issue of the school board praying before its meetings so it could be decided separately.

The plaintiffs say that they intend to appeal to the United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit.

Of course, if this were a school district where a majority of the school board members were Moslems, I'm sure that the judge would have reached the same decision about opening school board meetings with a reading from the Koran. No, he wouldn't have. And we won't even consider a school board that wanted to cast a circle, call the Elements, and invoke a Goddess to begin its meeting.


ntodd said...

Oh yes, having a legislative body opening with a prayer is so much better because, you know, that would never come close to violating Establishment.

xan said...

Hell, I can't even get my local Dem county party subcommittees to have a gathering without Xian prayers. As in, noble sentiments but always ending with "In Jesus' name amen." Cuz nothing is official in w. TN unless Jeezuz is saying it.

I am not brave so have never said anything about it. sigh.

Have only been to school board meetings once or twice so am not sure about their prayer habits. At least we just have "moment of silence" in the classroom.

Teacats said...

As a fairly new U.S. citizen (since May 2004) I thought that a legislative body at any level was a form of government .... hmmmm ..... is this the loophole that the xians needed? Wow. And I thought that school boards had much bigger issues to handle .... must be mistaken on that one too.

Jan at Rosemary Cottage