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For week ended May 23, 1999 Posted 4 Jun 1999

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Court dismisses Idaho graduation prayer suit

Summarized by Rosemary Pollock

Court dismisses Idaho graduation prayer suit
Sacramento CA Bee (AP) 20May99 L1
By Bob Egelko: Associated Press Writer

SAN FRANCISCO -- The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals dismissed a suit challenging student-led prayers at graduation exercises for the Madison School District in eastern Idaho. The ruling was a defeat for parents who challenged religious practices in local school districts. The case was based on an illegal use of tax funds that increased the cost of graduation ceremonies. The court determined that the case lacked standing or the ability to claim a violation of one's own rights, because prayers do not increase the tax-supported cost of graduation ceremonies.

The Madison School District is in a heavily Mormon populated district. Students at Madison have invariably decided to include a prayer at both the beginning and end of the ceremony. American Civil Liberties Union lawyer, whose client challenged the practice, was away from his office and unavailable for comment on the case of Doe vs. Madison School District, 97-35642.

The suit filed in l990 had been delayed awaiting rulings on related issues. During the suit, the last of the student plaintiffs graduated from high school in May 1998, causing the three-judge panel of the appeals court to rule in favor of the district. They found that the policy did not promote religion and violated no one's rights as long as the students were free to decide without interference from the district. The full court withdrew the panel's ruling this March and referred the case to an ll-judge panel who ruled unanimously Wednesday that the case was moot, citing that there was no need to decide whether the district's policy was constitutional.

The graduating student's mother identified herself in the court only as Jane Doe. Judge Susan Graber said that a taxpayer claiming a church-state violation must show that tax money is spent on the challenged activity. She said this principle was first established in a 1952 Supreme Court ruling. Jane Doe also failed to show how the prayers deterred her from attending future graduation ceremonies or how this affected her rights in any other way, Graber said.

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