Religious Liberty on the Docket

Coles v. Cleveland Board of Education
171 F.3d 369 (6th Cir. 1999)

This case falls into the legal category of: ,

Case Dates:
Wednesday, 30 December, 1992 - Thursday, 18 March, 1999
Facts:

In 1992 the Cleveland Board of Education began to open each of their meetings with a moment of silent prayer, led by a minister or by the board president. One student, Sarah Coles, and one teacher, Gene Tracy, disagreed with the practice. Represented by ACLU legal director at the time, Joan Englund, and volunteer attorney Josh Cohen, they filed suit in December 1992, arguing that the prayer violated the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment as well as Article I, Section 7 of the Ohio Constitution, which says that no person should be forced to attend a place of worship or be forced to worship against his or her will.

A magistrate judge found that reciting a prayer and the moment of silent prayer were unconstitutional. The District Court for the Northern District of Ohio then found that while the prayer recitation itself was unconstitutional, a moment of silent prayer was not, due to a history of prayer in this country. The Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals then reversed this decision, saying that calling for a moment of silent prayer violates the Establishment Clause because it sends a message of government endorsement of religion