The US Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit [official website] has upheld [opinion, PDF] a lower court ruling allowing a Texas school board to open their meetings with a student-led public prayer. By affirming the lower court ruling, the Fifth Circuit held [Fox News report] Monday that the prayers are not unconstitutional as government-established religion. The case is a result of a lawsuit by the American Humanist Association [advocacy website] and a graduate of Birdville High School, the school in question. The appellate panel ruled that student-led prayers for legislative bodies differ from unconstitutional prayers in public schools. The court further cited the Supreme Court decision Town of Greece v. Galloway [opinion, PDF], which held that a town’s practice of opening its town board meetings with a prayer did not violate [JURIST report] the Establishment clause. Judge Jerry Smith wrote for the panel:
It would be nonsensical to permit legislative prayers but bar the legislative officers for whom they are being primarily recited from participating in the prayers in any way. Indeed, the Supreme Court did not take issue with the fact that Town of Greece board members bowed their heads during invocations.
Public prayer has been an increasingly contested issue since the Supreme Court’s ruling in Town of Greece v. Galloway. In February the US court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit ruled [JURIST report] that offering christian-only prayers at public board meetings in unconstitutional. In September the US Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit ruled [JURIST report] that North Carolina county commissioners can open meetings with a prayer. In April Idaho Governor Butcch Otter vetoed a bill [JURIST report] that would have permitted the use of the Christian bible in a public school.