School district prayer lawsuit for judge to decide

Published: Aug. 11, 2014 at 9:12 PM EDT
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COLUMBIA, SC (WIS) - The lawsuit regarding prayer at school board meetings in Lexington-Richland District Five is now up to a federal judge to decide.

"Everything is in front of the judge now," said attorney Aaron Kozloski, who represents the plaintiffs in the case who want the school board to stop giving an invocation prayer at meetings.

Kozloski said all the legal motions, their replies and summary judgements in the case have been filed. He said the judge did not indicate when she would issue a ruling.

The lawsuit was filed by the Freedom From Religion Foundation and several students, ordering the district to stop the practice of prayers before its meetings. It's part of a greater case the group filed to ban prayer from commencement ceremonies.

"When this started, there was no policy in place," said Kozloski. "The district adopted a formal written policy.  From the plaintiff's standpoint, the question is, does it violate the establishment clause?"

Kozloski says this case is similar to one currently before the supreme court involving prayers said before a town council meeting in New York. A decision has not yet been made in Town of Greece v. Galloway, but when it does, the ruling could set a precedent for similar cases.

He says although city and town councils have been opened their meetings with prayers for years, a school board is different because of "the presence and participation of schoolchildren who are impressionable.

"The issue to be decided by Judge Currie is whether school boards are entitled to the same 'legislative exception' to government-sponsored prayer as other legislative public bodies, such as the State General Assembly and City and County Councils," district attorney Andrea White said via e-mail to WIS.

"The United States Supreme Court, in the 1983 case of Marsh v. Chambers, found that legislative bodies may lawfully provide for a non-sectarian prayer at their meetings.  The District believes that school boards, like other legislative bodies, are covered by the Marsh ruling."

The suit involving prayer at graduation ceremonies has been settled.

"The parties have resolved all issues pending before the Court," reads a letter from the plaintiff's attorneys to Judge Cameron McGowan Currie. "However, Plaintiffs reserve their right file (sic) a separate action regarding the implementation of Policy IMD in the future."

Kozloski said the school district changed its policy regarding prayer at graduation ceremonies.

According to the revised policy, schools may select a speaker from the graduating class to deliver a brief opening and/or closing message at graduation.  The student who is selected to speak determines the content of his or her message. 

"Throughout this process, the District has remained strongly committed to valuing every student and honoring the traditions and heritage of every family" said White's statement. "Based on that commitment, in August 2013, the District Board of Trustees revised its policy regarding student speakers at high school graduation ceremonies in accordance with the SC law known as the Student Led Message Act."

"We're just going to see how that goes," said Kozloski.

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