Borden v. School District of the Township of East Brunswick

United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit

523 F.3d 153 (3d Cir. 2008)

Under the Establishment Clause, a public school is not permitted to act in a manner that a reasonable observer familiar with the context and history of a particular display would perceive that act as an endorsement of religion by the government.

Relevant Facts

Marcus Borden (the plaintiff) was a football coach at the East Brunswick High School, which was a part of the East Brunswick School District (the defendant). The plaintiff had a history of leading or participating in two prayers each week with the football team, one during the pre-game dinner and one after the game. The plaintiff led the pre-game prayer and the first pre-meal prayer of the season. During the 2005 football season, several parents complained about the prayers. In response, the district developed guidelines for student-led prayers. Under the guidelines, but faculty and coaches were prohibited from encouraging, leading, initiating, mandating, or participating in the prayers, but students were permitted the students to lead the prayers. The plaintiff was directed to comply with these guidelines. In response, the plaintiff initially resigned, but eventually withdrew his resignation and finished coaching the season and complied with the guidelines. Subsequently, the plaintiff sued, alleging that the guidelines unconstitutionally infringed upon his First Amendment rights. At the start of the next season in 2006, the plaintiff asked the team captains to call and find out if the players wanted to continue the prayers. The team captains reported that the players voted to continue the prayers.

The district court ruled that the policy was unconstitutional and granted the plaintiff summary judgment and that the plaintiff’s silent participation did not violate the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment. After the district court’s decision, the plaintiff stood and bowed his head during the pre-meal prayer and kneeled during the pre-game prayer. The defendants then appealed to the United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit.

Issue

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Holding & Reasoning

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Concurrence

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Dissent

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Last updated:

December 12, 2020

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Procedural History

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Citations

523 F.3d 153 (3d Cir. 2008)