United States District Court, S.D. Indiana, Indianapolis Division
ORDER ON PLAINTIFF'S MOTION FOR PRELIMINARY
WALTON PRATT, JUDGE
matter is before the Court on a Motion for Preliminary
Injunction filed pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure
65 by Plaintiff Duane Nickell (“Dr. Nickell”)
(Filing No. 10). Dr. Nickell challenges the
constitutionality of the policy and practice of offering
prayers at the beginning of school board meetings held by
Defendant Franklin Township Community School Corporation
(“FTCSC”). He seeks a declaration that the prayer
practice violates the First Amendment and an injunction
prohibiting the school board from offering a prayer at the
beginning of its public meetings. For the following reasons,
Dr. Nickell's Motion for Preliminary Injunction must be
Nickell has taught physics and mathematics at various high
schools in Marion County, Indiana and has taught physics at
Franklin Central High School (the high school within FTCSC)
(“the School”) since 2001. In addition to
teaching high school, Dr. Nickell has been an adjunct faculty
member at Indiana University Purdue University Indianapolis
since 1988. Dr. Nickell is interested in the affairs of
FTCSC, has attended school board meetings in the past, and
since September of 2016, has regularly attended school board
meetings. He plans to continue attending school board
meetings. Dr. Nickell retired from his work as a teacher
within FTCSC in June 2017 (Filing No. 33).
is a public school corporation in Marion County, Indiana,
which operates seven elementary schools, two middle schools,
and one high school. The Board of School Trustees (the
“School Board”) is the governing body of FTCSC.
The School Board approves budgets, sets policies for the
district after deliberations, appoints members to committees,
and can impact taxes assessed in the district. The members of
the School Board are elected officials who serve four-year
School Board holds monthly meetings, which are open to the
public. These meetings are held on school property.
Approximately once per calendar year, the School Board
invites a handful of students to its meeting to be recognized
for winning awards or to present ideas. Students rarely
attend School Board meetings and are never required to do so.
In 2016, no students or student groups were invited to
attend, and in 2015, two student groups were invited to
attend. However, not all students who are invited to be
recognized at a meeting actually attend the meeting.
School Board begins each regular, monthly meeting with a
prayer given by one of the School Board members. The prayers
are Christian in orientation, mentioning “Jesus”
or “Christ”. The prayers primarily seek wisdom
and guidance for School Board members. As a regular agenda
item, the prayer is given by a member of the School Board
after the “call to order”. Since at least 1986,
the School Board's prayer practice always occurs at the
beginning of the meeting after the call to order and before
the mission statement is read. The prayer practice consists
of having a School Board member offer a prayer of his or her
own choice on a rotating basis. FTCSC does not control the
content of any School Board member's prayer and has no
policy establishing what type of prayer is or is not allowed.
Likewise, there is no policy of nondiscrimination.
School Board member offering the prayer prays aloud while
standing at the front of the meeting room. The prayer
practice does not involve asking the audience to participate.
During the prayer, audience members respond in a variety of
ways. Individuals who attend the meetings generally are quiet
during the prayer, and some individuals bow their head.
November 22, 2016, Dr. Nickell filed a Complaint requesting
declaratory judgment and injunctive relief for violations of
the First Amendment based on the Christian prayers offered at
FTCSC's public School Board meetings. Dr. Nickell objects
to prayers being given in the public School Board meeting
setting. He believes the prayers send a message of
non-inclusion to members of the community who are not
Christian. Soon after filing his Complaint, Dr. Nickell filed
his Motion for Preliminary Injunction.
preliminary injunction is an extraordinary remedy never
awarded as of right.” Winter v. Natural
Resources Defense Council, Inc., 555 U.S. 7, 24 (2008).
Granting a preliminary injunction is “an exercise of a
very far-reaching power, never to be indulged in except in a
case clearly demanding it.” Roland Mach. Co. v.
Dresser Indus., Inc., 749 F.2d 380, 389 (7th Cir. 1984)
(citation and quotation marks omitted). When a district court
considers whether to issue a preliminary injunction, the
party seeking the injunctive relief must demonstrate that:
(1) it has a reasonable likelihood of success on the merits
of its claim; (2) no adequate remedy at law exists; (3) it
will suffer irreparable harm if preliminary injunctive relief
is denied; (4) the irreparable harm it will suffer without
preliminary injunctive relief outweighs the irreparable harm
the nonmoving party will suffer if the preliminary injunction
is granted; and (5) the preliminary injunction will not harm
the public interest.
Platinum Home Mortg. Corp. v. Platinum Fin. Group,
Inc., 149 F.3d 722, 726 (7th Cir. 1998). The greater the
likelihood of success, the less harm the moving party needs
to show to obtain an injunction, and vice versa. Girl
Scouts of Manitou Council, Inc. v. Girl Scouts of the United
States of America, Inc., 549 F.3d 1079, 1086 (7th Cir.