Uncertified Neb. Church Schools Open

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Several fundamentalist schools in Nebraska opened their doors last week, despite court orders that they remain closed until they receive state certification. And the county attorney in the most widely-publicized school case said the school's leaders still could face jail sentences.

Cass County Attorney Ronald Moravec said he would decide this week whether to prosecute the leader of the Faith Christian School in Louisville, the Rev. Everett Sileven, and parents of the children attending the unsanctioned school.

Mr. Moravec said he would give the minister and parents involved in the school a chance to earn the right to operate by submitting information about the school to the state department of education.

Mr. Sileven maintains that the state has no right to regulate the school because it is affiliated with a church, but a state district court in 1979 ruled that he must abide by the regulations or face a jail sentence.

A practice devised this summer by State Sen. Thomas Vickers might enable Mr. Sileven and other fundamentalist-school leaders to avoid seeking state certification.

Under the plan, parents of students in the schools would be given the opportunity to fill out a two-page questionnaire about the school.

If state officials find that the answers indicate that the school meets their standards, it would be permitted to operate.

The use of the questionnaire has received the approval of Commissioner of Education Joseph Lutjeharms and the Nebraska Board of Education as a way to deal with the school leaders' objections to reporting directly to the state.

State Standards

Mr. Moravec said he might prosecute Mr. Sileven or parents of Faith Christian students if the information about the school now being compiled by a parent shows that the school does not meet state standards.

Fall classes at Calvary Academy in Grand Island, Neb., also started last week despite a judge's order last May that the school remain closed for failing to comply with the certification regulations.

About 25 fundamentalist schools with a total of about 300 students have resisted efforts by local law-enforcement officials to either seek the certification or close, according to the counsel for the State Senate's education committee. The counsel said he expected "two or three" schools to use the questionnaire to avoid being closed.

In other developments involving church-state issues:

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit has ordered a lower court to consider the arguments of a group of taxpayers who contend South Dakota's textbook-loan law is unconstitutional.

The taxpayers say the law passed in 1977--under which books and other instructional material can be given to students of both public and private schools through the state's public systems--advances religion in the state.

The U.S. District Court for the District of South Dakota last year rejected one argument of the 16 taxpayers and refused to consider two others.

The Court of Appeals ordered the lower court to rehear the plaintiffs' arguments in the case, Elbe v. Yankton Independent School District, asserting that it did not fully consider the possibility that the law promoted religion, even though it was not intended to advance religion.

Religious Groups' Meetings

Two major Jewish organizations have asked the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit to overturn a lower federal court's decision that the meetings of a religious group may be held on campus during school hours.

The American Jewish Congress and the Anti-Defamation League of B'nai B'rith told the federal appeals court that allowing the club to continue to meet would foster religious divisions, create the appearance of government approval of certain religions, and expose students to proselytizing during school hours.

At issue is a decision by Superintendent Oscar Knade of the Williamsport (Pa.)Area Schools to bar a interdenominational club from meeting at Williamsport Area High School during school hours.

The U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Pennsylvania in May ruled that the district ban on the club "impermissibly burdened [the students'] free-speech rights."

Gov. Bill Sheffield of Alaska vetoed a bill that would have reduced state regulation of religious schools. But the Governor said he would meet with the state education commissioner to make sure that the regulations are not "onerous."

Governor Sheffield said the measure would have "served no discernible public purpose." The bill would have eliminated all "general supervision" of the state's relgious-affiliated elementary schools.--ce

Vol. 03, Issue 01

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