Update: Lexington-Richland Five remains in negotiations over school prayer lawsuit

Lawyers are still at the table over an issue raised by the Freedom From Religion Foundation and a suit filed on behalf of district students against Lexington-Richland Five School District.

Lexington-Richland Five Chief Information Officer Mark Bounds said Monday at the board meeting that an attempt to bring the lawsuit to a close was made by the district but things haven’t been fully resolved.

“At this time, legal counsels for both parties are still attempting to resolve this (matter),” Bounds said.

The suit was filed in May 2012 in response to prayer at graduation ceremonies as well as an invocation given before the regular monthly meetings.

Since the lawsuit was filed, the board voted July 15 to revise Policy BE “School Board Meetings” and IMD “School Ceremonies and Observations”, which Bonds said fully comply with federal and state law.

“They provide the best possible framework for students to express themselves while protecting the district from further litigation,” he said.

Changes made to the graduation policy removed the portion stating that the “use of an invocation and/or benediction at a high school graduation exercise will be determined by a majority vote of the graduating senior class.” Instead, the policy now reads that the “school will choose a student from the graduating class to deliver a brief opening or closing message, or both, at graduation exercises based on objective criteria, such as academic standing and/or student office or position.” It further states that each school will create its own criteria for selecting the speaker.

The chosen student will prepare his or her own message, and the revised policy states that it won’t be reviewed or censored. The district will discipline the student only if the content is “obscene, profane and/or vulgar.”

For the board meetings, provisions were added to the existing policy to allow for a “public invocation” that’s “non-sectarian and will not proselytize for or advance anyone, or disparage any other, faith or belief.”

Bounds said that the district served the plaintiff an offer of judgment on Aug. 21 to resolve the matter entirely. Aspects of the offer included a payment of $500 for nominal damages and reasonable attorney fees.

“It was premised on the district’s adoption of new policies related to graduation and board prayer,” Bounds said.

The plaintiff had until the Sept. 9 to reply to the offer.

“In this case, the plaintiff accepted the district’s offer for only three of the six causes of action,” Bounds said. “In short, the plaintiff’s council wanted to accept the offer of judgment regarding the claim to graduation prayer but not invocation of the board.”

Typically, offers of judgment must be accepted entirely or not at all. The plaintiff later filed a motion for summary judgment on the remaining claims.

U.S. District Judge Cameron Currie is expected to rule on the case. As of Sept. 30, Bounds said no decision had been made.