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First Liberty Briefing

First Liberty Briefing is an exclusive podcast hosted by First Liberty Institute’s Deputy General Counsel Jeremy Dys. In about 90-seconds, once a week, Jeremy recalls the stories that have shaped America’s religious liberty, from the founding era to current legal battles and more. It’s an insider’s look at the stories, cases, people, and laws that have made America the world’s leader in protecting religious liberty.
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Jan 19, 2018

The United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit reviewed a case involving the Birdville Independent School District after it a humanist group sued them. The humanist group argued students should not be permitted to have an invocation at the school board meeting. Learn how the court ruled at FirstLiberty.org/Briefing.


In 1997, the Birdville Independent School District welcomed two students to their meetings. One student led the Pledge of Allegiance, while the other student delivered a statement of his own choosing, according to the school’s policy of allowing student remarks. That continued for years, most often in the form of an invocation, during which the board members stood respectfully quiet with bowed head while the student prayed.

That was all well and good, until a humanist group sued, alleging that school boards aren’t legislative bodies and should not be permitted to have an invocation in the same way a state legislature, city council, or county commission does.

Eventually, the case arrived before the United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit, where a three-judge panel upheld the practice, stating, “Legislative prayers are recited for the benefit of legislative officers. 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.”

The fact that students undertook to lead those invocations was of minimal concern. “Although it is possible to imagine a school-board student-expression practice that offends the Establishment Clause,” the court explained, “this one, under its specific facts, does not.”

This is a routine area of challenge by secularists, but one with limited success, since the long tradition of our country is one of support for prayer at public meetings.

To learn how First Liberty is protecting religious liberty for all Americans, visit FirstLiberty.org.

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