Federal Court Strikes Down Louisiana School Prayer Law

Church & State, July 2000 | Go to article overview
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Federal Court Strikes Down Louisiana School Prayer Law


A 1999 Louisiana law designed to reintroduce official prayer into public schools is unconstitutional, a federal court has held.

Ruling in a lawsuit brought by Americans United for Separation of Church and State and the state branch of the American Civil Liberties Union, U.S. District Judge Robert G. James said June 14 that the measure ran afoul of the separation of church and state.

In a seven-page decision, James observed, "This statute cannot help but create the appearance that the state of Louisiana is endorsing religion since the state has created a venue for public prayer (the quintessential religious practice) in public facilities under the supervision of public officials. The Court therefore finds that the statute is an unconstitutional governmental endorsement of religion."

The Louisiana legislature passed the school prayer measure about a year ago, and it was later signed into law by Gov. Mike Foster. The legislation altered an existing school prayer statute that authorized silent prayer or meditation in school every day by removing the word "silent." During deliberations over the bill, several backers admitted they wanted to return vocal prayer by teachers and students to public schools.

Church-state separationists hailed the court decision.

"This is an important victory for individual rights," said the Rev. Barry W. Lynn, executive director of Americans United. "It sends a clear message that government officials can't tell public school students when and how to pray."

Americans United and the Louisiana ACLU brought the legal challenge against the law as part of a larger law-suit challenging recitation of prayers over the intercom at West Monroe High School and other schools within the Ouachita Parish School District (See "Louisiana Time Warp," June 2000 Church & State).

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