School board’s rejection of proposed referendum on religion In schools upheld

Howard Friedman, Religion Clause

In Torres v. Davis, 2012 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 87446 (D NJ, June 22, 2012), a New Jersey federal district court dismissed free exercise and equal protection claims of a Camden, NJ resident who wanted the Camden Board of Education to place on the election ballot a voter referendum on 3 questions:

1) Do you … want your Public Schools to open the daily session in prayer in a pledge of allegiance to the god we trust by the children in acknowledgment of God and His son Jesus Christ. The Prayer given to us by His Son Jesus Christ the “Our Father Which art in Heaven hollowed [sic] be Thy Name.”…

2) Do you … want a Holy Bible based curriculum in your Public Schools which teaches the truth and the presence of God as creator in alignment with our New Jersey State Constitution where we are Grateful to Almighty God and looking towards Him for a blessing unimpaired in the endeavor to properly educate our children….

3) Do you … want those fellow Camden, NJ residents who are on probation, or parole, or incarcerated for non violent offenses their civil right to vote in Camden School District Elections as a part of the rehabilitation process….

The court concluded that the Board did not have jurisdiction to place the third issue on the ballot. As to issues 1 and 2, the court held that adoption of them would violate the Establishment Clause. The court also held that the commissioner of education and attorney general are immune from damage claims under the 11th Amendment.