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Group Urging Bush to Renounce Statement Made at Supreme Court

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The American Jewish Congress is urging President Bush to renounce an “outrageous” statement made at the U.S. Supreme Court this week by a lawyer who maintained that the Constitution would permit the declaration of a state religion, as long as nobody was coerced into practicing it.

Charles Cooper, a Washington attorney, made the statement Wednesday when the Supreme Court heard oral argument in a case involving the constitutionality of including prayers mentioning God during public school graduation ceremonies.

Cooper, who was an assistant attorney general in the Reagan administration, and U.S. Solicitor General Kenneth Starr jointly argued the case for the Providence (R.I.) School Committee. They maintained that including such prayers does not amount to a government advancement of religion barred by the First Amendment.

But Starr sought to distance himself from Cooper’s remarks on the constitutionality of imposing a state religion.

AJCongress President Robert Lifton sent identical letters Thursday to Bush and Starr calling Cooper’s remarks “shocking.”

Lifton said that since the administration was so closely coupled with the school board’s position in the case, it is imperative that the government “categorically and unequivocally renounce the school board’s argument and separate itself clearly and decisively from the line of thought it represents.”

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