Court Declines To Review Ruling Allowing Dance Ban

By William Snider — April 25, 1990 3 min read

Washington--The U.S. Supreme Court last week declined to review an appellate ruling that allowed a school board in Purdy, Mo., to ban dances in its schools.

The case, Clayton v. Place (No. 89-1348), was initiated in 1986 by a group of students and their parents who argued that the dance ban grew out of the board members’ religious beliefs and thus violated the Constitution’s prohibition on a state establishment of religion.

School officials, in turn, had argued that the 100-year-old dance ban was not grounded in religion, but in fears that allowing such activity would create discipline problems and could prove costly.

In the decision allowed to stand last week, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit had sided with the board, finding that the Constitution did not prohibit the dance ban.

“We simply do not believe elected government officials are required to check at the door whatever religious background ... they carry with them before they act on rules that are otherwise unobjectionable,” the three4judge panel had ruled.

In asking the High Court to review the case, the group challenging the ban said that the appellate ruling, if allowed to stand, would permit school boards to “endorse and promote” religious beliefs cloaked in “facially neutral” language.

But lawyers for the district argued that the Justices should not tamper with the powers of locally elected officials to enact policies, including dress and behavior codes, “which have their basis in traditional morality.”

The district, which serves a religiously conservative community, was forced to hold three dances during the period of the legal battle after a lower court had declared the ban unconstitutional.

In other action, the Court turned back the latest challenge by the National Right to Work Legal Defense Fund to the rights of teachers’ unions to collect fees from non-members to cover the cost of representing their interests.

The Court has long held that such so-called “agency fees” are legal, but the Right to Work Fund has filed several cases that could make the collection of the fees more difficult.

In the latest case, Gwirtz v. Ohio Education Association (No. 89-1331), the Court declined to review a ruling by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit that found that the o.e.a. was disclosing sufficient financial information to non-members, and did not have to use the “highest level” of financial disclosure.

The Justices also declined to review a judgment against a school district that had been found to have discriminated against a candidate for an assistant principal’s position on the basis of her gender.

In Blount County Board of Education v. Nichols (No. 89-1253), the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit had upheld the claims of a teacher who was passed over for promotion to the post in favor of a male with fewer academic qualifications.

The teacher’s lawyer argued in papers filed before the High Court that recent decisions by the Court may have made her case more difficult to win, but that those decisions could not be applied retroactively in this case.

The Court also:

Ruled unanimously, in Yellow Freight System v. Donnelly (No. 89431), that state courts may hear lawsuits filed under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which prohibits employment discrimination on the basis of race or sex. Lower courts had issued conflicting rulings on the jurisdictional question.

Ruled 6 to 3, in Oregon Employment Division v. Smith (No. 88-1213), that laws making peyote use illegal, despite its use in Native American rituals, are constitutionally permissible. Some civil-liberties experts speculated that the ruling could cause difficulties for schoolchildren whose religious beliefs require them to seek exceptions to established school-district policies.

Ruled 6 to 3, in Osborne v. Ohio (No. 88-5986), that states may ban the possession of child pornography, even if it is not deemed obscene.

Heard oral arguments, in Maryland v. Craig (No. 89-478), which raises the issue of whether alleged victims of child abuse should be forced to give their testimony in court, rather than by closed-circuit television, as is commonly done in such cases.

The case pits the constitutional right of defendants to confront their accusers against concerns that such a requirement would increase victims’ trauma.

A version of this article appeared in the April 25, 1990 edition of Education Week as Court Declines To Review Ruling Allowing Dance Ban