Judge tosses suit challenging school board prayers

August 17, 2017

A judge has thrown out a retired teacher’s lawsuit challenging the customary opening Christian prayer at Franklin Township School Board meetings.

Judge Tanya Walton Pratt ruled Thursday that Duane Nickell, who taught math and physics in the Indianapolis township schools from 2001 until his retirement this year, lacked standing to pursue his claim in the District Court for the Southern District of Indiana. Nickell also taught physics at Indiana University-Purdue University at Indianapolis.

Nickell was the plaintiff in a case filed last year by the American Civil Liberties Union of Indiana. He claimed the exclusively Christian prayers offered at school board meetings violated the First Amendment and send a message of non-inclusion to members of the community who are not Christian. Pratt didn’t reach that issue, denying Nickell’s request for a preliminary injunction and dismissing the complaint on standing.

“The Court concludes that Dr. Nickell lacks standing to support this action because he has not suffered an actual, concrete, and particularized injury; rather, he has asserted a general grievance about government,” Pratt ruled. “Important are the facts that Dr. Nickell does not live in Franklin Township, he cannot vote for the School Board members, and he cannot vote on (school corporation) matters.”

Though his children graduated from the school system, Pratt wrote, none are currently enrolled. “In  short, there is no link, connection, or relationship between Dr. Nickell and (Franklin Township schools). Because the School Board meetings are open to the public, Dr. Nickell is permitted to attend the  meetings …,” she wrote.

“(T)his lawsuit is in the nature of a general member of the public complaining of a general grievance of government.  Thus, Dr. Nickell lacks standing to bring this action, and the Court lacks subject-matter jurisdiction to hear this case," Pratt wrote in dismissing the case, Duane Nickell v. Franklin Township Community School Corp., 1:16-cv-3193.




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