High Court Leaves Intact Rulings Maintaining Church-state Separation

The Supreme Court has decided to let stand a host of lower court rulings that uphold the constitutional separation of church and state.

The news Monday drew cautious initial praise from the major Jewish defense groups, especially in light of the court’s major ruling last week in a Rhode Island case that strengthened the ban on prayer in public school.

“Overall it appears the court is willing to let stand important lower court decisions maintaining the wall of separation and therefore religious liberty,” said Mark Pelavin, Washington representative of the American Jewish Congress.

Steven Freeman, legal director of the Anti-Defamation League, said he welcomed the news. “It’s a very encouraging development for those who are concerned with church-state separation.”

Freeman said that the Lee vs. Weisman case in Rhode Island seemed to indicate the court would make a distinction between public schools and other arenas. But he said now it appeared that may not be the case.

For Richard Foltin, director of governmental affairs for the American Jewish Committee, “it’s always a matter of conjecture why the court agrees to let stand a group of cases.”

“Given the Lee vs. Weisman case, we could conjecture the court wants to let the smoke clear and let the lower courts figure out the implications of that decision,” he said. “It could also mean the court is so split, it didn’t see the point of ruling on church-state cases at this time.”

Among other cases, the court left intact:

* A ruling that a Denver public school principal acted properly in ordering a fifth-grade teacher to remove a Bible from his desk and two religious books from the class library.

* A ruling that barred celebrating a Roman Catholic mass in a city park in the Chicago suburb of Crestwood as part of an Italian festival.

* A ruling that barred two Chicago suburbs, Zion and Rolling Meadows, from using a cross and other religious symbols on their city seals.

* A ruling that upheld the University of Alabama’s warning issued to a professor to stop telling his students about his Christian beliefs.

In a departure from the tenor of the other decisions, the justices let stand a Hawaii law declaring Good Friday an official holiday.

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