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Supreme Court declines review of banned valedictory address

Tuesday, September 4, 2001 | Tag Cloud Tags:

By Kenny Byrd
WASHINGTON (ABP) -- Declining to intervene in the gray area between free-speech rights and the Constitution's ban on establishment of religion, the U.S. Supreme Court has turned down the appeal of a high-school student barred from giving a graduation speech deemed too religious by a California school district.

Left standing by the high court March 5 was a ruling by the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals that actions by officials from the Oroville Union High School District "were reasonably taken" to avoid excessive church-state entanglement.

The case involved a 1998 speech submitted in advance by a co-valedictorian that urged fellow students to accept Christ as Savior. School officials said the speech, as well as a prayer submitted in Jesus' name by a fellow student, were too sectarian for a public-school graduation. Both students refused to tone down the religious content of their messages, and the district prohibited them from being delivered.

Barred from delivering the messages, co-valedictorian Chris Niemeyer and Ferrin Cole, the student elected to lead the graduation prayer, filed suit in district court. The case subsequently was appealed to the 9th Circuit.

Citing the U.S. Supreme Court's 2000 ruling against organized school-sponsored prayer at public-school football games, the appellate court ruled in favor of the school district.

"We conclude the district officials did not violate the students' freedom of speech," the court said. Refusing the submitted remarks "was necessary to avoid violating the Establishment Clause," the court ruled.

Cole's invocation prayer would not have been "private speech," the court decided, because of school district's authorization and the fact that only a student elected by classmates was allowed to speak.

Whether Niemeyer's speech was private or school sponsored, the appeals court said, was a tougher call. "Nonetheless, we conclude the district's plenary control over the graduation ceremony, especially student speech, makes it apparent Niemeyer's speech would have borne the imprint of the district."

The case is Niemeyer v. Oroville Union High School District, 00-1074.

Associated Baptist Press
Used with permission.

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Worthy Christian News » Christian » Supreme Court declines review of banned valedictory address