Appeals Court Hears Religion Case Against Birdville ISD

By Vanessa Brown | CBSDFW.COM

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HALTOM CITY (CBSDFW.COM) – A case concerning a North Texas school district is being heard by the U.S. Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals in New Orleans on Tuesday. The arguments are related to religion in school settings, after a lawsuit was filed in May 2015 against the Birdville Independent School District in Haltom City.

The lawsuit was filed by the American Humanist Association and former Birdville High School student Isaiah Smith. They are challenging the school district’s practice of opening school board meetings with prayers by students.

Smith said that he is not against prayer, but feels that it has no place in schools or at school-related activities.

The former student claimed that his peers threw baseballs at him, used gay slurs and told him to kill himself. He was allegedly told that he could not be gay and Christian. “I have been treated awful growing up,” Smith stated. “I started being vocal about my rights because I got tired of being discriminated against.”

The American Humanist Association advocates for people with non-religious beliefs. In the complaint, the group argues that the prayers are school-endorsed and coercive, and in violation of the First Amendment.

When the lawsuit was first filed, Hiram Sasser with the Liberty Institute spoke in favor of the school prayer. “Governments are allowed to open their meetings with prayer,” he said. “We’ve been doing it for 200 years and the United States Supreme Court has said, on two different occasions, it’s perfectly legal.”

A ruling found prayer permissible as long as it does not “denigrate non-believers or religious minorities.”

Smith’s lawsuit, however, contends that the Birdville ISD did just that by hand-picking its students to deliver solely Christian prayers. “They openly endorse Christianity over other religions and over non-religion,” Smith said. “It made me feel left out. It also made me feel uncomfortable.”

Both sides were given 30 minutes to present their cases on Tuesday morning, and are now awaiting the outcome.

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