Ingebretsen v. Jackson Public School Dist., No. 3:94-cv-411WS.

CourtUnited States District Courts. 5th Circuit. Southern District of Mississippi
Citation864 F. Supp. 1473
Docket NumberNo. 3:94-cv-411WS.
PartiesDavid INGEBRETSEN, On Behalf of Himself and His Daughter, Anna Ingebretsen; Berlena McCallum, On Behalf of Herself and Her Son, John M. Dozier; The Rev. Dr. Donald Bell, On Behalf of Himself and His Daughter, Kathryn Diana Bell; William D. Lamson, On Behalf of Himself and His Daughter, Leigh Lamson-Quay; Terry Bacola, On Behalf of Herself and Her Sons, Brian Bacola and Darren Bacola; Robert S. McGowan; Jerusha Degroote; John Baker; American Civil Liberties Union of Mississippi, Inc., Plaintiffs, v. The JACKSON PUBLIC SCHOOL DISTRICT; Board of Trustees of the Jackson Public School District, By and Through Its President, Mark Bailey; and Mike Moore, In His Official Capacity as The Attorney General of the State of Mississippi, Defendants.
Decision Date02 September 1994

864 F. Supp. 1473

David INGEBRETSEN, On Behalf of Himself and His Daughter, Anna Ingebretsen; Berlena McCallum, On Behalf of Herself and Her Son, John M. Dozier; The Rev. Dr. Donald Bell, On Behalf of Himself and His Daughter, Kathryn Diana Bell; William D. Lamson, On Behalf of Himself and His Daughter, Leigh Lamson-Quay; Terry Bacola, On Behalf of Herself and Her Sons, Brian Bacola and Darren Bacola; Robert S. McGowan; Jerusha Degroote; John Baker; American Civil Liberties Union of Mississippi, Inc., Plaintiffs,
v.
The JACKSON PUBLIC SCHOOL DISTRICT; Board of Trustees of the Jackson Public School District, By and Through Its President, Mark Bailey; and Mike Moore, In His Official Capacity as The Attorney General of the State of Mississippi, Defendants.

No. 3:94-cv-411WS.

United States District Court, S.D. Mississippi, Jackson Division.

September 2, 1994.


864 F. Supp. 1474
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864 F. Supp. 1475
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864 F. Supp. 1476
Robert B. McDuff, Jackson, MS, Elliot M. Mincberg, Judith E. Schaeffer, People for the American Way, Washington, DC, for plaintiffs

James A. Keith, J. Perry Sansing, Jackson, MS, T. Hunt Cole, Jr., Miss. Atty. General's Office, Jackson, MS, for defendants.

MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

WINGATE, District Judge.

Before the court is the plaintiffs' motion for preliminary injunction which seeks to enjoin the enforcement of Mississippi's school-prayer statute, 1994 Miss.Laws ch. 609, §§ 1 to 3 (codified as amended at Miss.Code Ann. §§ 37-13-4 & 37-13-4.1 (rev. 1990)). This

864 F. Supp. 1477
statute purports to permit public-school students to initiate prayer at various compulsory and noncompulsory school events. The defendants have filed a motion to dismiss or, alternatively, for summary judgment on the grounds, inter alia, that this lawsuit does not present a "case" or "controversy" within the meaning of Article III1 of the United States Constitution, and further that the plaintiffs have not suffered an injury of a character that should invoke the jurisdiction of this court

The interrogatory here is whether the plaintiffs herein are entitled to injunctive relief under the dictates of Canal Auth. of State of Fla. v. Callaway, 489 F.2d 567 (5th Cir.1974), upon plaintiffs' assertion that the school-prayer statute sub judice is in conflict with the Establishment Clause2 of the First Amendment to the United States Constitution and its interpreting cases.

Although this debate is generally framed by concerns of whether prayer in the public schools would complement or boost secular learning and character development, today's ruling makes no reference to these matters. Nor does this case decide whether prayer in the public schools would stem the tide of juvenile unlawfulness and immorality which many claim is on the upsurge. Rather, the focus here is simply on the language of the school-prayer statute and whether it survives the requisites of Canal Auth. of State of Fla. v. Callaway, supra, at 572. Earlier, this court in a preliminary ruling immediately determined that at least one aspect of the school-prayer statute appears to offend the Establishment Clause.3 Since the statute contains a severability clause, this court then sought to determine whether to enjoin but portions of the statute, or whether to enjoin it in toto. During this subsequent hearing, held on August 16, 1994, the plaintiffs presented live testimony, and both parties introduced documentary exhibits. The court then heard oral arguments on the facts and the law. Sufficiently educated in all of the particulars, this court now renders its ruling.

I. PARTIES AND JURISDICTION

The plaintiffs represent three distinct classes of persons: (1) students currently enrolled in the Jackson, Mississippi, Public Schools; (2) parents of those students, in their capacities as both parents and taxpayers; and (3) the American Civil Liberties Union ("ACLU"), a non-profit membership organization of the State of Mississippi. The ACLU appears as a plaintiff on its own behalf and on behalf of its members and their minor children. The defendants here are: (1) the Jackson, Mississippi, Public School District ("District"); (2) the Board of Trustees of the Jackson Public School District ("School Board"), by and through its president, Mark Bailey; and (3) Mike Moore, in his official capacity as the Attorney General of the State of Mississippi.

This case is properly before this court pursuant to federal question jurisdiction, 28 U.S.C. § 1331,4 and civil rights jurisdiction, 28 U.S.C. § 1343.5

864 F. Supp. 1478

II. FACTS6 AND PROCEDURE

In response to a request by the majority of the student body at Wingfield High School in Jackson, Mississippi, the school's principal, Dr. Bishop Earl Knox, permitted7 the student body president to deliver a prayer over the school intercom system on the morning of November 9, 1993. The student body had previously voted 490 to 96 to permit such a prayer. Although earlier advised by the District's attorney that such a practice was condemned by the United States Constitution and, thus, by the District's policy, Dr. Knox nevertheless permitted the prayer. Over the next three days the prayers were delivered over the school intercom system to all students who, during which, were required to remain at their desks.

On November 11, 1993, Dr. Knox was summoned to meet with his immediate supervisor, Deputy Superintendent John Sanders, and was placed on administrative leave for allowing the students to offer the morning prayers. On November 24, 1993, the District's Superintendent, Dr. Benjamin Canada, terminated Dr. Knox's employment.

Dr. Knox subsequently contested his termination and requested an evidentiary hearing.8 In due course, Dr. Knox appeared before Hearing Officer Dr. Dan Merritt, whose task was to determine whether Dr. Knox's actions, taken in spite of the disapproval of the District's attorney,9 constituted insubordination — a ground for dismissal under Miss.Code Ann. § 37-9-59.10 The Hearing Officer found on the evidence presented that Dr. Knox's actions had been insubordinate.

On December 15, 1993, instead of ratifying either the termination or the aforementioned ground for such, the School Board voted to suspend Dr. Knox's employment until July 1, 1994, on the grounds that he had shown "lack of professional judgment." Still aggrieved, Dr. Knox appealed that suspension to the Chancery Court of the First Judicial District of Hinds County. By order dated April 22, 1994, Chancellor W.O. "Chet" Dillard ordered the School Board to reinstate Dr. Knox with back pay.11

864 F. Supp. 1479

Dr. Knox's suspension sparked considerable public debate throughout the State of Mississippi as to the proper role of prayer in the public schools. When Dr. Knox was placed on administrative leave, 299 students were suspended from public schools in Jackson and surrounding areas for walking out of classrooms in protest of Dr. Knox's treatment. Several rallies were held in support of Dr. Knox and school prayer. One of the largest such rallies was held in Jackson on the steps of the state capitol and featured a supportive speech by the Governor of Mississippi, Kirk Fordice.

This public support for Dr. Knox even reached into the Mississippi Legislature. On March 24, 1994, the Mississippi Senate passed a resolution commending Dr. Knox "for his forthright action which has been the catalyst for a renewed effort all over this state and nation to return prayer to our public schools: ..." S.Con.Res. 663, 1994 Reg.Sess. Then, on March 29, 1994, the Mississippi House of Representatives passed House Bill No. 222, the subject school-prayer law, by a vote of 109 to 11. The next day House Bill No. 222 was approved by the Mississippi Senate by a vote of 31-18.

On April 7, 1994, Governor Fordice signed into law House Bill No. 222, which became effective on July 1, 1994. The entire text of the statute is reproduced in the appendix of this opinion. However, the language at the center of this controversy is § 1(2) of the school-prayer statute which states that:

on public school property, other public property or other property, invocations, benedictions or nonsectarian, nonproselytizing student-initiated voluntary prayer shall be permitted during compulsory or noncompulsory school-related student assemblies, student sporting events, graduation or commencement ceremonies and other school-related student events.

1994 Miss.Laws ch. 609, § 1(2). The drafters of the statute included the following preamble:

the exercise of the rights guaranteed under subsection (2) of this section shall not be construed to indicate any support, approval or sanction of the contents of any such prayer, invocation, benediction or other activity, or be construed as an unconstitutional use of any public property or other property by the State of Mississippi or any agency, department, board, commission, institution or other instrumentality thereof or any political subdivision of the state, including any county or municipality and any instrumentality thereof. The exercise of these rights on public school property, other public property or other property for such school-related activities, by students and others, shall not be construed as the promotion or establishment of any religion or religious belief.

Id. § 1(4).

Further, the school-prayer statute contains a severability clause which permits any provision of the statute found to be invalid or unconstitutional to be severed without affecting the remainder of the statute. See id. § 1(5).

On August 4, 1994, this court held a hearing on plaintiffs' motion for a preliminary injunction which asked this court to enjoin the defendants from implementing in any manner the school-prayer statute. At that time, the court also heard the motion of the American Family Association Law Center ("AFALC") to intervene on behalf of certain students enrolled in Mississippi public schools. The court decided...

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7 practice notes
  • PHILADELPHIA RESERVE SUPPLY v. Nowalk & Associates, Civ. A. No. 91-0449.
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 3th Circuit. United States District Court (Eastern District of Pennsylvania)
    • September 27, 1994
    ...Walsh, Greenberg and Wegener under N.J.Stat.Ann. § 2C:41-2(d) for conspiracy to violate N.J.Stat.Ann. § 2C:41-2(c). The argument 864 F. Supp. 1473 of defendants for dismissing this count rested on the other New Jersey RICO counts being dismissed. Since I have reinstated the other New Jersey......
  • Freedom from Religion Found., Inc. v. Hickenlooper, No. 10CA2559.
    • United States
    • Colorado Court of Appeals of Colorado
    • May 10, 2012
    ...does not supersede the fundamental limitations imposed by the Establishment Clause."); Ingebretsen v. Jackson Public School Dist., 864 F.Supp. 1473, 1484, 1490 (S.D.Miss.1994) (enjoining enforcement of school prayer statute); Weisman v. Lee, 728 F.Supp. 68, 75 (D.R.I.1990) (authorizing plai......
  • Chandler v. James, Civil Action No. 96-D-169-N.
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 11th Circuit. Middle District of Alabama
    • March 12, 1997
    ...school officials, to deliver prayers in the public schools. See Ingebretsen, 88 F.3d at 280; Ingebretsen v. Jackson Public Sch. Dist., 864 F.Supp. 1473, 1483 (S.D.Miss.1994). This, of course, is an activity which has been expressly forbidden by the Supreme Court. E.g., Lee, 505 U.S. at 599,......
  • Herdahl v. Pontotoc County School Dist., No. 3:94CV188-B-A.
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 5th Circuit. United States District Courts. 5th Circuit. Northern District of Mississippi
    • April 18, 1995
    ...important about the beginning of each school day that justifies a Jones type solemnization. Ingebretsen v. Jackson Pub. Sch. Dist., 864 F.Supp. 1473, 1488 (S.D.Miss.1994). Indeed, it could be argued that such a practice lessens the importance of events such as graduation — the very event th......
  • Request a trial to view additional results
7 cases
  • PHILADELPHIA RESERVE SUPPLY v. Nowalk & Associates, Civ. A. No. 91-0449.
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 3th Circuit. United States District Court (Eastern District of Pennsylvania)
    • September 27, 1994
    ...Walsh, Greenberg and Wegener under N.J.Stat.Ann. § 2C:41-2(d) for conspiracy to violate N.J.Stat.Ann. § 2C:41-2(c). The argument 864 F. Supp. 1473 of defendants for dismissing this count rested on the other New Jersey RICO counts being dismissed. Since I have reinstated the other New Jersey......
  • Freedom from Religion Found., Inc. v. Hickenlooper, No. 10CA2559.
    • United States
    • Colorado Court of Appeals of Colorado
    • May 10, 2012
    ...does not supersede the fundamental limitations imposed by the Establishment Clause."); Ingebretsen v. Jackson Public School Dist., 864 F.Supp. 1473, 1484, 1490 (S.D.Miss.1994) (enjoining enforcement of school prayer statute); Weisman v. Lee, 728 F.Supp. 68, 75 (D.R.I.1990) (authorizing plai......
  • Chandler v. James, Civil Action No. 96-D-169-N.
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 11th Circuit. Middle District of Alabama
    • March 12, 1997
    ...school officials, to deliver prayers in the public schools. See Ingebretsen, 88 F.3d at 280; Ingebretsen v. Jackson Public Sch. Dist., 864 F.Supp. 1473, 1483 (S.D.Miss.1994). This, of course, is an activity which has been expressly forbidden by the Supreme Court. E.g., Lee, 505 U.S. at 599,......
  • Herdahl v. Pontotoc County School Dist., No. 3:94CV188-B-A.
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 5th Circuit. United States District Courts. 5th Circuit. Northern District of Mississippi
    • April 18, 1995
    ...important about the beginning of each school day that justifies a Jones type solemnization. Ingebretsen v. Jackson Pub. Sch. Dist., 864 F.Supp. 1473, 1488 (S.D.Miss.1994). Indeed, it could be argued that such a practice lessens the importance of events such as graduation — the very event th......
  • Request a trial to view additional results

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