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Supreme Court Refuses To Consider Appeal of Texas School-Prayer Case

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The U.S. Supreme Court last week declined to hear a case involving the right of the school system in Lubbock, Tex., to allow religious groups to hold voluntary prayer meetings in school facilities before or after school hours.

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit had said in ruling against the school district on the case last March that the meetings violated the First Amendment's prohibition of state establishment of religion. Twenty-four U.S. Senators had filed a friend-of-the-court brief urging the Court to reverse the appeals court decision.

In the 97th Congress, the Senate was asked to consider a constitutional amendment to permit prayer in public schools and legislation to remove voluntary school prayers cases involving state laws from the jurisdiction of federal courts.

The decision not to hear the case marks the second time the Court has opted not to extend to secondary schools its reasoning in the 1981 case, Widmar v. Vincent.

In that case, which involved a campus prayer group at the University of Missouri, the Court upheld the students' right to hold prayer meetings on campus grounds, saying that the university's "open forum" policy must be applied to all campus groups.

However, the Court refused to hear a case brought by students from Guilderland, N.Y., who wished to hold voluntary prayer meetings on school property.

During the 1970's, the Lubbock school board allowed Bible readings and prayer in school, but the case was not filed by the Lubbock Civil Liberties Union until 1980, when the board adopted a policy allowing student religious groups to gather voluntarily before or after school.

Thomas S. Brandon Jr., counsel for the Christian Legal Society in Oak Park, Ill., said the religious policies of the school system seemed to influence the Fifth Circuit in its opinion. He added that a case accompanied by less "dirty laundry" might make it to the Court in the future. But, he said, "If I were a school attorney, I would advise my board, 'You're fighting a losing battle."'

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