The US Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit ruled [opinion, PDF] Wednesday that Chino Valley school board meetings, which are open to the public and include student attendees, may not include prayers or other religious exercises.
The Chino Valley school board argued that its prayer policy fell under the legislative-prayer tradition and would therefore not violate the Establishment Clause, which prohibits the establishment of religion by the government. The legislative-prayer tradition allows for prayers to open legislative sessions when the audience “consists of ‘mature adults’ who during the prayer are ‘free to enter and leave with little comment and for any number of reasons.'” However, the Ninth Circuit found that “[t]he audience and timing of the prayers, as well as the religious preaching at the Board meetings, diverge from the legislative-prayer tradition,” and concluded that the exception did not apply.
Ultimately, the Ninth Circuit found that the prayer policy at the Chino Valley school board meetings violated the Establishment Clause. As a result, the school board will no longer be allowed to endorse school-sponsored prayer in meetings.