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While correct, prayer ruling delays final showdown

Score one for common sense as the entire 5th Circuit Court of Appeals narrowly reversed a decision made by a smaller panel of it that ruled nonsectarian prayer at Tangipahoa Parish School Board meetings violated the first amendment. While it does not settle the matter by any means, the buildup to this decision and its content reveal once again the lengths to which anti-religion advocates are willing to go to erase religion from the public sphere.

By 8-7, the Court ruled the plaintiffs that sued the Board for violation of the conjured “wall of separation” between church and state that argues government should not support the concept of religion in any way even to the point out promoting secularism (contrary to the intent of the Framers of the Constitution) did not have standing to do so because they could not prove harm. Its Chief Judge Edith Jones (frequently mentioned as a candidate for the U.S. Supreme Court) in the majority opinion said a lower court would have to visit that question, which it did not do so when District Court Judge Ginger Berrigan (a former president of the Louisiana chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union, the organization which brought the suit on behalf of plaintiffs) ruled against the board.

It’s bad enough that a judge ideologically predisposed against the board made the initial ruling, but worse was the attitude displayed in the minority opinion written by Circuit Judge Rhesa Barksdale, who wrote the opinion of the three-judge panel earlier, calling the decision “a most grievous and unpardonable judicial sin of exalting form over substance.” Translation: “since the rules dictated that the outcome go against my ideological agenda, we need to break the rules.”

Essentially, the previous decisions were vacated, but expect a renewed ACLU challenge this time doing its best to demonstrate standing. In the meantime, Alliance Defense Fund counsel Mike Johnson (who defended the board at no cost to taxpayers) has developed a set of guidelines he thinks will pass constitutional muster that would anticipate forestalling another suit. It won’t given the blind ambition of the ACLU and its fellow travelers on this issue. This won’t go away and may well go all the way to the Supreme Court and maybe there a favorable outcome will protect expression of religious belief from anti-religion forces using government to try to squelch this right.

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