The Education Action Network

Taking Back America By Taking Back Our Schools

(via email 2-5-14)

Ms. Burk and Members of the Board,

Thank you for your prompt response. The proposed resolution concerning prayer before Gilbert School Board meetings is both unacceptable to our organization and, more importantly, to the United States Constitution. As is cited in Paragraph 15 of the resolution, “there is a crucial difference between government speech endorsing religion and private speech endorsing religion...” Bd. of Educ. of Westside Cmty. Sch. v. Mergens By & Through Mergens, 496 U.S. 226 (1990). The Gilbert School Board is a government body. Voting to institute prayer before school board meetings is government speech and would amount to an endorsement of religion over non-religion.

While it is your right to disagree with us, the law on this matter is clear. None of the precedent cited in the proposed resolution has been held to apply to school board meetings. In other words, there simply is no precedent that says Marsh v. Chambers, 463 U.S. 783 (1983) applies to school boards.

In fact, every court that has dealt with that question - “whether Marsh applies to school boards” - has answered resoundingly in the negative. See Doe v. Indian River School District, 653 F.3d 256 (3d Cir. 2011), cert. denied, 132 S. Ct. 1097 (holding that prayer at school board meetings conveys message favoring religion); Coles v. Cleveland Bd. of Educ., 171 F.3d 369 (6th Cir. 1999) (finding that a school board’s practice of opening its meetings with prayers violated the Establishment Clause).

While we commend the student who came forward as an activist for prayer for their courage and community involvement, the purpose they cited – “to set an example for students” - is precisely what the Establishment Clause guards against. School Boards may not set religious examples for their students. School Boards may not endorse religion. If that student wishes to pray, nothing is preventing them, but the Board can’t carve out a special time for their prayers without violating the Establishment Clause.

It does not matter how many students, teachers, parents or administrators would like to hoist prayer upon everyone in attendance at school board meetings. Constitutional principals are not up for a simple majority vote. The bill of rights exists to protect the minority from the tyranny of the majority. The vigor or number of Gilbert citizens who disagree with case law or constitutional dictates is of absolutely no consequence.




Jarvis K. Idowu

Law Clerk, FFRF


Views: 70

Replies to This Discussion

Mr. Idowu is correct.  Constitutional principals are not up to a simple majority vote.  Wow, where was he in March, 2010 when Obamacare was getting shoved down our throats while we were told it was "Constitutional"?


Where was "Freedom From Religion" at the GPS meeting last week?  I didn't see a representative.  I also didn't hear any religion being endorsed.


I suppose, though, if the GPS Board reverts back to no prayer, the religion of Atheism will be okay with that.  Yes, Mr. Idowu, Atheism is a religion.  But you're welcome at my Easter celebration in April.


Peggy McClain




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