The 5th Circuit Court of Appeals has ruled that the practice of allowing students in Lubbock, Tex., to pray at school before or after their classes violates the First Amendment’s ban on government establishment of religion.
The court rejected the school district’s argument that the prayer meetings were an extension of the voluntary, “open forum” prayer meetings upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court last December in a higher-education case, Widmar v. Vincent.
The school district also maintained that banning the meetings would violate the students’ rights of free speech and free expression.
In the Widmar case, which involved the University of Missouri and a campus prayer group, the Supreme Court said that if a college or university allows some student organizations to meet in campus facilities, the policy must be applied to all student groups.
A footnote to the decision noted that “unversity students are, of course, young adults,” a statement that led some lawyers to suggest that the same policy might not be applicable to high-school students.
A week after the Widmar ruling, the Supreme Court decided not to hear an appeal by a group of high-school students at Guilderland High School in New York who had been denied the right to hold prayer meetings. The decision was made without comment.
The Court’s decision not to hear the case upheld an appeals court ruling that allowing such meetings would violate the Constitution’s prohibition against state establishment of religion.
At the time of the Guilderland decision, a lawyer for the Christian Legal Society in Oak Park, Ill., said the Lubbock case, called Lubbock Civil Liberties Union v. Lubbock Independent School District, was significantly different from Guilderland.
In the Guilderland case, the students sued to force the school board to allow the meetings; in Lubbock, the local civil-liberties group sued the school board because it allowed students to use the facilities for prayer meetings.
“The substance of the decision not to hear Guilderland,” he said, ''is that high-school students cannot require the school board to let them meet for prayer groups. That doesn’t say what happens if the school board decides to let them meet.”
D. Thomas Johnson, attorney for the Lubbock school district, said the district “probably will” try to take the case to the Supreme Court.--A.H.