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In Town of Greece v. Galloway, the U.S. Supreme Court stated unequivocally that the legislative-prayer exception in Chambers extends to prayers delivered at town-board meetings. Those prayers, however, must not denigrate nonbelievers or religious minorities, threaten damnation, or preach conversion. Moreover, the principal audience for these invocations is not the public but lawmakers themselves, who may find that a moment of prayer or quiet reflection sets the mind to a higher purpose and thereby eases the task of governing.
The local school board has a policy of inviting students to deliver statements, which could include invocations and student-led prayers, before school-board meetings. Plaintiffs sued the local school board under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 for monetary damages from the individual school-board members and declaratory and injunctive relief. The plaintiffs alleged that the local school board has a policy, practice, and custom of permitting, promoting, and endorsing prayers delivered by school-selected students at board meetings, in violation of the Establishment Clause. The local school board alleged that the student-led invocations either qualify as private speech, satisfy the conventional Establishment Clause tests. The local school board moved for summary judgment. The district court granted the motion, finding that the legislative-prayer exception applied. The plaintiffs appealed.
Did the local school board’s policy of inviting students to deliver statements, which could include invocations and student-led prayers, violate the Establishment Clause?
The court held that the local school board's policy of inviting students to deliver statements, which could include invocations and student-led prayers, before school-board meetings did not violate the Establishment Clause because the practice fell more nearly within the recently reaffirmed legislative-prayer exception to the U.S. Supreme Court's Establishment Clause jurisprudence. In particular, the presence of students at school board meetings did not transform the case into a school-prayer case, particularly as most attendees at school board meeting were adults, the invocations were delivered during the ceremonial and introductory portion of the meeting, and requests to stand for the invocation did not coerce prayer. Legislative prayer lent gravity to public business and expressed a common aspiration to a just and peaceful society, but it did not offend the Establishment Clause.