Dec 07, 2001

The U.S. Supreme Court today declined to review a case dealing with prayer at public school graduation ceremonies in Duval County, Fla. By refusing to intervene, the justices left in place a lower court ruling upholding a plan that allows graduating seniors to choose a classmate to give a prayer or other "message" at the graduation ceremony.

The Rev. Barry W. Lynn, executive director of Americans United for Separation of Church and State, said the action in the Adler v. Duval County School Board case is disappointing.

Said Lynn, "Students should not have to sit through a prayer they don't believe in just to get their high school diplomas. The rights of religious minorities should never be subjected to majority rule, whether it's by a graduating class or a school board."

After the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals upheld the Duval County policy last year, students at one high school elected a classmate who gave an evangelical Christian sermon. In her remarks during the graduation, she thanked Jesus for "dying for our sins" and thanked God for "raising him from the dead three days later so that through your son's death we may be at peace with you and thereby may have fellowship with you."

Said Lynn, "I do not believe today's inaction constitutes a change in policy by the Supreme Court. The justices have never allowed public schools to coerce students about religion, and I don't think they plan to start doing so now. The justices refuse to take the vast majority of cases they are asked to review, and usually don't say why.

"The good news here is that the lower court ruling applies in only three states -- Florida, Georgia and Alabama. If this 'majority-rules' plan spreads to other states, I think the justices will put a stop to it."

Americans United is a religious liberty watchdog group based in Washington, D.C. Founded in 1947, the organization educates Americans about the importance of church-state separation in safeguarding religious freedom.