FFRF of Georgia

9th Circuit denies en banc petition, reaffirms FFRF win

Written on 12/26/2018
Bailey Nachreiner-Mackesey

The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals today reaffirmed FFRF’s resounding victory against prayer at school board meetings in the Chino Valley School District (Calif.), by denying a petition to rehear the case.

The Freedom From Religion Foundation, along with 22 parents, students and employees of the district filed suit to challenge the practice of prayer at Chino Valley School Board’s meetings, which resembled church revivals more than public meetings. These meetings opened with prayer and regularly included board members reading from the bible and proselytizing.

In July, the 9th Circuit ruled in favor of FFRF, declaring the inclusion of prayer at these school board meetings unconstitutional. The district filed an en banc petition soon after, which was denied by a three-judge panel of the 9th Circuit on Wed., Dec. 26.

The denial of the petition does not come as a surprise, as the panel’s unanimous decision was sound and correctly ruled that Chino Valley’s inclusion of prayer and religious proselytization at board meetings is illegal.

"The board’s prayer policy and practice violate the Establishment Clause,” the panel wrote. “We hold that the Chino Valley Board’s prayer policy lacks a secular legislative purpose and therefore, under Lemon, violates the Establishment Clause. Accordingly, we uphold the district court’s grant of summary judgment to the Foundation on this claim,” ruled M. Margaret McKeown, Kim McLane Wardlaw, circuit judges, and Wiley Y. Daniel, district judge for Colorado, sitting by designation.

Then-Board President James Na injected Christianity into many of his official statements to parents and students at meetings. For instance, at one meeting, Na “urged everyone who does not know Jesus Christ to go and find Him,” after which another board member closed with a reading of Psalm 143.

FFRF is pleased with the court’s decision not to rehear this case and subsequently continue to frivolously spend more of taxpayer money battling well-settled law.

“Reason — and the Constitution — have once again prevailed,” says FFRF Co-President Annie Laurie Gaylor. “This reaffirms the court’s message to the other school boards out there that they cannot use their public position to impose religion on other people’s children and parents.”

U.S. District Court Judge Jesus Bernal already ordered the school board to pay more than $200,000 for the initial case. Now costs and fees associated with the appeal will add significantly to that number. FFRF and the plaintiffs are represented by Attorney David J.P. Kaloyanides, FFRF Legal Director Rebecca Markert and FFRF’s Director of Strategic Response Andrew Seidel. The case is FFRF v. Chino Valley Unified School District is No. 16-55425.

The Freedom From Religion Foundation is a national nonprofit organization with 32,000 members and several chapters across the country, including over 3,900 members in California and a chapter in Sacramento. FFRF’s purposes are to protect the constitutional principle of separation between church and state, and to educate the public on matters relating to nontheism.