AU Opposes Sectarian Prayer At Del. School Board Meetings

A Delaware school board’s practice of opening its meetings with Christian prayers violates the constitutional separation of church and state, Americans United has advised a federal appeals court.

In a friend-of-the-court brief filed with the 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals June 28, AU and allied groups say U.S. District Judge Joseph J. Farnan Jr. erred when he ruled in favor of sectarian invocations before board meetings of the Indian River School District.

Groups joining Americans United on the brief include the American Civil Liberties Union, the ACLU of Delaware, People For the American Way Foundation, the American Jewish Committee, the Union for Reform Judaism and the Hindu American Foundation.

Barry W. Lynn, Americans United executive director, said public school boards have a responsibility to obey the Constitution and respect diversity. 

The lawsuit was filed by an anonymous Jewish family. The family asserts that the district’s pro-prayer policy fails to respect religious diversity.

The legal challenge was originally much broader, with the family opposing a variety of religious practices in school, such as Christian prayers being offered at official events. Those issues were later settled out of court.

The friend-of-the-court brief in Doe v. Indian River School District was written by Americans United Legal Director Ayesha N. Khan and AU Madison Fellow Michael A. Blank, in consultation with Dan Mach and Heather Weaver of the ACLU.