IFAS | Freedom Writer | June 1994 | prayer.html

IFAS member wins school prayer case

Duncanville, Texas In the beginning of April a federal judge issued a permanent injunction barring Duncanville, Texas, school officials from leading or promoting prayer in school-related events, including sports. Officials of the Dallas suburb are also prohibited from distributing Bibles to students at school or authorizing the singing of religious songs as school theme songs.

The order follows a 1991 temporary injunction that an IFAS member family accused the district of violating. The non-Christian family has a daughter in the Duncanville High School.

U.S. District Judge Robert Maloney wrote that without the injunction, "The court is convinced that there is danger that the defendants will revert to their unconstitutional religious practices." He said the injunction will remain in effect until he is satisfied that the unconstitutional practices will not recur.

Duncanville school Superintendent Annette T. Griffin said Tuesday that the judge "needs to trust more."

"We do obey the law here," she said. "We had stopped distributing Gideon Bibles even before the suit was filed."

Importantly, Judge Mahoney noted in his ruling that the injunction does not prohibit prayer. Students who want to pray may do so together as long as school officials do not participate or supervise. This, by the way, is true for every school district in America. Additionally, the choir may sing religious songs, he wrote, "if presented objectively as part of a secular program of education."

In November 1991, Judge Mahoney issued a preliminary injunction barring the district from promoting religion after the junior high school basketball player and her parents sued with the help of the American Civil Liberties Union. The girl said she had felt forced to join in Christian prayers with teammates and coaches and had been ostracized when she didn't. Because of mistreatment from other students, she has since quit the school's basketball team and choir.

School officials acknowledged then that they had sponsored prayer and other religious activities as long ago as the 1970s, but claimed the practices had stopped.

At a hearing last year, the teenager, who is a Deist, testified that after the preliminary injunction the school continued to promote Christian prayer in violation of the First Amendment guarantee of freedom of religion. She testified that a history teacher had given a quiz on creationism and biblical stories, that another teacher had hung a bumper sticker with a Christian message in a classroom, and that the school choir's theme song was "The Lord Bless You and Keep You."

"There was a twenty-year history of these things going on, and it never stopped," said Frank Chandler, an attorney for the teenager. "I think the judge agreed it was going to continue."

It appears certain that the school board will appeal the injunction. Last year, the district appealed the preliminary injunction but did not prevail before the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.

Judge Maloney's ruling also orders the school to pay the teenager's attorneys $52,473 in fees. To date, the school's insurance covered such fees. Now, any further legal costs or penalties must be born by the school district. From the beginning of the four-year-old case, the Rutherford Institute has offered to take the case pro bono, but Judge Mahoney has refused to let them participate.

© 1998 Institute for First Amendment Studies, Inc.