WASHINGTON (AP) -- Student-led graduation messages, which opponents call official school prayer in thin disguise, may continue in Jacksonville, Fla., high schools. The Supreme Court said Monday it will not review a lower court's ruling that found the policy constitutionally sound.
A group of students and parents sued to block the policy in Duval County, which allowed the senior class to choose "chaplains" to give inspirational addresses at graduation. The school district calls the addresses "messages," and notes that they may be entirely secular.
"The clear purpose of the challenged policy is to preserve a tradition of prayer at graduation," opponents led by the consumer and public interest group Public Citizen claimed in asking the high court to step in.
Invocations and benedictions were allowed at Duval County's 15 public school graduations before a 1992 Supreme Court ruling that prohibited clergy-led prayers at public school graduations.
In 1993, school officials adopted a new policy letting high school seniors decide whether to choose a fellow student to give a "brief opening and/or closing message" at graduation. The student would decide the message's content with no review by school officials.
A group of students and their parents sued in 1998, saying the policy amounted to a government establishment of religion, barred by the Constitution's First Amendment.
Under the policy, students at some schools have elected a class chaplain to lead invocations and benedictions, or to give messages designated as "reflections" or "inspiration."
The 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals has twice upheld the policy -- most recently in response to a Supreme Court order last year.
The high court told the Atlanta-based appeals court to rethink the case in light of the Supreme Court's decision in 2000 to bar student-led prayers at public high school football games.
Brainerd Dispatch ©2013. All Rights Reserved.