Mississippi Loses Bid for Prayer in Schools High Court Rejects the State's 1994 Law

Article excerpt

The Supreme Court rejected on Monday a bid by Mississippi to let students lead group prayers in public school classrooms, assemblies and athletic events.

Ruling without comment, the justices let stand lower court decisions declaring the 1994 Mississippi law a violation of the constitutional requirement of separation of church and state.

But the court left unclarified just what the Constitution allowed, and left school officials nationwide caught in the crossfire of religious controversy. Monday's action was not a ruling on the merits of the Mississippi law and set no national precedent. But it was a defeat for Mississippi officials who had hoped to revive the state law. "I hope lower courts won't read into the court's action any disapproval of legitimate student-initiated prayer and worship, such as prayer clubs," said Jay Sekulow of the American Center for Law and Justice. "The way the Mississippi statute was worded was problematic at the outset," Sekulow said. "Official sanction was all over it." The Mississippi law required - rather than permitted - public schools to allow invocations, benedictions and "nonsectarian, nonproselytizing, student-initiated prayer" at all school-related student events. It covered compulsory and noncompulsory events in and outside schools. T. Hunt Cole Jr., the special assistant attorney general who had filed the state's appeal to the Supreme Court, said: "Our arguments on constitutional issues are over. There's nothing more we can do. …


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