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Court Declines To Review Ruling on Church Day Care

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Washington--The U.S. Supreme Court declined last week to review a ruling that allowed Virginia officials to exempt church-run child-care centers from compliance with health and safety regulations.

The Court's action means that the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit's decision in the case will remain binding in Maryland, North Carolina, South Carolina, Virginia, and West Virginia.

Although it does not establish a nationwide precedent, it could influence the outcome of similar suits in other judicial circuits.

Last May, the Fourth Circuit court ruled that a 1979 Virginia law waiving licensing requirements for religiously affiliated centers did not violate the First Amendment's prohibition against state establishment of religion.

Three private, secular day-care providers had challenged the law, arguing it was unconstitutional and gave their church-operated competitors an unfair economic advantage.

The ruling in the case, Forest Hills Early Learning Center v. Jackson (Case No. 88-730), has received national attention because it is thought to be the first by a federal appellate court on the subject of state regulation of church-run day-care centers. Similar disputes have erupted in several of the 11 other states that waive licensing requirements for such centers. (See Education Week, May 25, 1988.)

Property Taxes

In other action last week, the Court ruled unanimously that property owned by several coal companies in Webster County, W.Va., had been assessed at a disproportionately high rate.

The Justices returned the case, Allegheny Pittsburgh Coal Company v. County Commission (No. 87-1303), to the state supreme court and ordered it to resolve the situation. The ruling indicates that the state court will either have to lower the companies' assessments or raise assessments for similar parcels of land in the county.

The West Virginia constitution states that all property "shall be taxed in proportion to its value." The High Court held that the county assessor, in apparent violation of the constitutional mandate, had valued the companies' property on the basis of recent sales prices, while other properties not recently sold were assessed on the basis of previous assessments, with minor modifications.

The system, the Court ruled, resulted in large disparities in the assessed value of comparable properties. That situation, it said, deprived the coal companies of equal protection under the law in violation of the 14th Amendment.

Affirmative Action

Also last week, the Court heard arguments in two affirmative-ac4tion disputes that could produce decisions affecting such programs for school employees.

In the first set of three cases, which bears the general heading Martin v. Wilks (No. 87-1614), the Court has been asked to decide whether white employees can intervene in lawsuits to challenge affirmative-action programs formulated by employers and groups representing minorities.

In the second case, Wards Cove Packing Company v. Atonio (No. 87-1387), the Court will decide whether comparative statistics can be used as evidence of discrimination against minorities in promotions.--tm

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