The U.S. Supreme Court had an opportunity to settle a major part of the fierce school-prayer debate this week. And blew it.
Americans on both sides of the issue were left hanging when the high court dissolved a ban on student-led graduation prayer in nine western states - without deciding the merits of the case, which began in Grangeville, Idaho.
Prayer supporters counted the non-decision as a win. Americans United for Separation of Church and State was disappointed.
But the real losers were the school districts, patrons and students, looking to the High Court for guidance. The National School Boards Association had urged the justices to review the Idaho case, observing that school boards throughout the nation are “caught in the middle” of costly warfare over graduation prayers and “do not know which way to turn.”
The Supreme Court still can short-circuit this stalemate, before 1996 graduations, by using some other graduation-prayer case to establish a precedent.
Without a clear ruling, school districts still are vulnerable to lawsuits. Such a threat this spring prompted school trustees at Burbank, Wash., to rescind permission for student-led graduation prayer, supported by 46 of 53 seniors.
Monday’s ruling came in a dispute at Grangeville High. There, seniors were hushed at June 2 graduation ceremonies by a prayer ban won after a mother of three children sued. Four years ago, her daughter objected to graduation prayers that invoked Jesus, the Holy Spirit and the Lord, saying she “felt as if I am being pressured to conform.”
The Grangeville woman won her short-lived victory last year from the U.S. 9th Court of Appeals in San Francisco. On Monday, the Supreme Court dismissed the case as moot, presumably because the woman no longer has children at Grangeville High. While the dismissal dissolved the lower court’s prayer ban it failed to settle the validity of student led prayers.
Meanwhile, the U.S. 5th Court of Appeals has ruled that a 1992 Supreme Court ban on clergy-led prayers at graduations does not apply to prayers planned and led by students. The Supreme Court let that ruling stand without endorsing it.
Does this mean the high court backs student-led graduation prayer? Who knows? The high court apparently can’t be bothered to say clearly.
, DataTimes The following fields overflowed: CREDIT = D.F. Oliveria/For the editorial board