Freedom From Religion Foundation, Inc. v. Chino Valley Unified School District Board of Education, 072518 FED9, 16-55425
|Opinion Judge:||PER CURIAM.|
|Party Name:||Freedom from Religion Foundation, Inc., Plaintiff-Appellee, v. Chino Valley Unified School District Board of Education; James Na, Chino Valley Unified School District Board of Education Board Member in his official representative capacity; Sylvia Orozco, Chino Valley Unified School District Board of Education Board Member in her official...|
|Attorney:||Robert H. Tyler (argued), Jennifer L. Bursch, and James A. Long, Tyler & Bursch LLP, Murietta, California, for Defendants-Appellants. David J. Kaloyanides (argued), David J.P. Kaloyanides APLC, Chino, California, for Plaintiff-Appellee. Deborah J. Dewart, Swansboro, North Carolina; James L. Hirse...|
|Judge Panel:||Before: M. Margaret McKeown and Kim McLane Wardlaw, Circuit Judges, and Wiley Y. Daniel, District Judge|
|Case Date:||July 25, 2018|
|Court:||United States Courts of Appeals, Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit|
The Foundation filed suit challenging a religious exercise at a local school board's meetings, including a prayer in the portion of the meeting that was open to the public and that included student attendees and participants. The Ninth Circuit affirmed the district court's grant of summary judgment and injunctive relief to the Foundation, holding that invocations to start the open portions of... (see full summary)
Argued and Submitted November 8, 2017 Pasadena, California
Appeal from the United States District Court No. 5:14-cv-02336-JGB-DTB for the Central District of California Jesus G. Bernal, District Judge, Presiding
Robert H. Tyler (argued), Jennifer L. Bursch, and James A. Long, Tyler & Bursch LLP, Murietta, California, for Defendants-Appellants.
David J. Kaloyanides (argued), David J.P. Kaloyanides APLC, Chino, California, for Plaintiff-Appellee.
Deborah J. Dewart, Swansboro, North Carolina; James L. Hirsen, Anaheim Hills, California; for Amicus Curiae Justice and Freedom Fund.
Helgi C. Walker, Sean J. Cooksey, Kian J. Hudson, and Nick Harper, Gibson Dunn & Crutcher LLP, Washington, D.C.; Kristen K. Waggoner and Brett Harvey, Alliance Defending Freedom, Scottsdale, Arizona; David A. Cortman, Alliance Defending Freedom, Washington, D.C.; for Amicus Curiae Alliance Defending Freedom.
Francis J. Manion and Geoffrey R. Surtees, American Center for Law and Justice, New Hope, Kentucky; Edward L. White III and Erik M. Zimmerman, American Center for Law and Justice, Ann Arbor, Michigan; for Amicus Curiae American Center for Law and Justice.
Steven W. Fitschen, The National Legal Foundation, Virginia Beach, Virginia, for Amicus Curiae Congressional Prayer Caucus Foundation.
James G. Abernathy, Olympia, Washington; Mark Goldfeder and Anton Sorkin, Restoring Religious Freedom Project, Atlanta, Georgia; for Amici Curiae Law and Religion Practitioners.
Richard B. Katskee, Eric Rothschild, and Kelly M. Percival, Americans United for Separation of Church and State, Washington, D.C.; Steven M. Freman, David L. Barkey, and Michelle N. Deutchman, Anti-Defamation League, New York, New York; Daniel Mach and Heather L. Weaver, American Civil Liberties Union Foundation, Washington, D.C.; Peter Eliasberg, ACLU of Southern California, Los Angeles, California; Brendan Hamme, ACLU of Southern California, Santa Ana, California; for Amici Curiae Americans United for Separation of Church and State; American Civil Liberties Union; ACLU of Southern California; Anti-Defamation League; Central Conference of American Rabbis; Hadassah, The Women's Zionist Organization of America, Inc.; Interfaith Alliance; Hindu American Foundation; Jewish Social Policy Action Network; Union for Reform Judaism; and Women of Reform Judaism.
Before: M. Margaret McKeown and Kim McLane Wardlaw, Circuit Judges, and Wiley Y. Daniel, [*] District Judge
The panel affirmed the district court's grant of summary judgment and injunctive relief in favor of plaintiffs in an action challenging a school board's policy and practice of permitting religious exercise during board meetings, including a religious prayer at meetings that are open to the public and that include student attendees and participants.
The panel held that the school board's prayer policy and practice violate the Establishment Clause. The panel held that the religious invocations to start the open portions of Board meetings are not within the legislative-prayer tradition that allows certain types of prayer to open legislative sessions. The panel noted that this was not the sort of solemnizing and unifying prayer, directed at lawmakers themselves and conducted before an audience of mature adults free from coercive pressures to participate, that the legislative-prayer tradition contemplates. Instead, these prayers typically took place before groups of schoolchildren whose attendance was not truly voluntary and whose relationship to school district officials, including the Board, was not one of full parity. Applying the three-pronged test first articulated in Lemon v. Kurtzman, 403 U.S. 602, 612-13 (1971) for determining whether a governmental policy or action is an impermissible establishment of religion, the panel concluded that the prayer policy lacked a secular legislative purpose and therefore, under Lemon, violated the Establishment Clause.
The panel held that the district court's injunction, which enjoined board members "from conducting, permitting or otherwise endorsing school-sponsored prayer in Board meetings," was not overbroad because it was limited to restricting only speech that constituted a governmental establishment of religion.
The Establishment Clause serves intertwined purposes, pertaining to individual freedom and the democratic nature of our system of government. The Clause protects "the individual's freedom to believe, to worship, and to express himself in accordance with the dictates of his own conscience." Wallace v. Jaffree, 472 U.S. 38, 49 (1985). It likewise ensures that the government in no way acts to make belief-whether theistic or nontheistic, religious or nonreligious-relevant to an individual's membership or standing in our political community. Lynch v. Donnelly, 465 U.S. 668, 688 (1984) (O'Connor, J., concurring). The Establishment Clause, grounded in experiences of persecution, affirms the fundamental truth that no matter what an individual's religious beliefs, he has a valued place in the political community.
These principles are central to our analysis in the context of public schools. Because children and adolescents are just beginning to develop their own belief systems, and because they absorb the lessons of adults as to what beliefs are appropriate or right, we are especially attentive to Establishment Clause concerns raised by religious exercise in the public-school setting.
This case implicates just such concerns. Freedom From Religion Foundation, two parents of students in the district, and twenty Doe plaintiffs-students, parents, district employees, a former district employee, and attendees of school board meetings (collectively "the Foundation")- challenge a religious exercise at a local school board's meetings-including a prayer in the portion of the meeting that is open to the public and that includes student attendees and participants. The Chino Valley Unified School District Board of Education ("Chino Valley" or "the Board") appeals the district court's grant of summary judgment to the Foundation on its Establishment Clause claim and challenges the scope of the injunctive relief ordered by the district court. They also seek to vacate, as moot, a separate portion of the district court's judgment, declaring that the Board's policy and custom of prayer and Bible readings at its meetings violates the Establishment Clause. We affirm the district court's judgment.
The Board is the governing body for the school district and accordingly oversees all district schools. See Cal. Educ. Code § 35010. The Board holds roughly eighteen public meetings per year. These meetings for some period of years included a public prayer, until enjoined by the district court. In October 2013, the Board adopted an official policy regarding the prayer practice, permitting an invocation at each Board meeting and providing a means for the Board to select the prayer-giver. The Board's policy and practice of prayer are at issue in this appeal.
A. Board Meetings
The Board meetings share a familiar structure. After a roll call and opportunity for public comment on closed-session items, the first portion of the meeting is closed to the public. During this time, the Board's five adult, non-student members make decisions on student discipline, including suspension and expulsion, student readmission, negotiations with the employee labor union, and hiring, firing, and discipline of district personnel.
The open portion of the meetings begins with a report by the Board president on the preceding closed session. Next, a member of the school community-sometimes, a student-recites the Pledge of Allegiance, and the Junior Reserve Officers' Training Corps presents the colors. Then, there is an opening prayer, usually led by a member of the clergy. On occasion, a Board member or member of the audience leads the prayer instead.2
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