Deal v. Freedom From Religion Found. Inc. (P)

An elementary student and her mother had standing to sue the child’s school on grounds that the weekly in-school “Bible in the Schools” program violated the First Amendment.

The appellants seek relief from two actual, ongoing injuries: (1) near-daily avoidance of contact with an alleged state-sponsored religious exercise, and (2) enduring feelings of marginalization and exclusion resulting therefrom. The requested injunction would address these injuries because the mother would no longer feel compelled to send her daughter to another school district to avoid what she views as state-sponsored religious instruction. An injunction would also alleviate the appellants’ ongoing feelings of marginalization, which constitute an independently actionable injury. The “opportunity” to return the student to her home district, in addition to alleviating appellants’ ongoing feelings of marginalization, is surely a tangible benefit sufficient to confer standing.

Contrary to the district court’s holding, temporary suspension of the Bible program, as it existed at the time of suit, did not make the appellants’ claim unripe. The county also can’t reframe this case as an unripe challenge to some future iteration of the program in order to avoid the demanding requirements of demonstrating mootness. It hasn’t shown that subsequent events make it “absolutely clear” that the suspended version of the program will not return in identical or materially indistinguishable form. The current claims are therefore not moot.

Reversed and remanded.

Deal v. Freedom From Religion Found. Inc. (P), No. 17-2429, Dec. 17, 2018. 4th Cir. (Motz) from SDWV at Bluefield (Faber).

Categories: 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, Opinions, Published

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