Supreme Court watch
It's going to be a busy year for religion at the Supreme Court, as the justices will consider both the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals decision against the use of the phrase "under God" in classroom recitations of the Pledge of Allegiance, and a challenge to Washington state's constitutional prohibition against scholarships for religious studies.

But it could have been an even bigger year. This week, amid various protests, the Supreme Court rejected several other cases, which could have widespread consequences.

In turning asideJacoby v. Prince, the Supreme Court allows the World Changers Bible club to meet at Spanaway Lake High School, a public school in Washington state, during class time.

"No other court has ever held that religious clubs have the right to meet in a public school during instructional time when attendance is mandated," lawyers had argued in court papers. But the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals (the court that ruled against "under God" in classrooms") disagreed in a ruling last year, noting the Supreme Court's 2001 Good News Club v. Milford Central School decision, which reiterated the principle that religious groups must be granted the same access, rights, and privileges as all other extracurricular groups on campus.

Though the Supreme Court could have reiterated that principle again in Jacoby v. Prince, it probably would have been overkill. In any case, it's implicitly clear across the nation that religious clubs can meet during school hours (if other extracurricular clubs can); and it's explicitly clear in the nine states covered by the 9th Circuit.

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If the Supreme Court is tired of ruling on religious clubs at public schools, it must be exhausted when it comes to religion at graduation ceremonies. In any case, the high court turned away Lassonde v. Pleasanton Unified School District, which is a bit of an unsurprising blow to religious speech. In 1999, salutatorian Nicholas Lassonde was forbidden from "proselytizing" during his graduation ceremony speech. The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals (again!) sided with the school, saying that "permitting a proselytizing speech at a public school's graduation ceremony would amount to coerced participation in a religious practice."

Apparent coercion is the key that separates the principle of free exercise of religion (like allowing a Bible study club) from state establishment of religion. In this case, the court said, students would "feel that there is no choice but to participate in the proselytizing in order to attend high school graduation."

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The Supreme Court has agreed with that argument in similar cases (like barring organized prayer at school football games), but has generally steered clear of graduation prayer cases. The U.S. Department of Education, however, has issued guidelines saying that schools can't restrict the speech of students at school-sponsored functions (including graduations).

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McKnight v. South Carolina doesn't have anything to do with religion, but many religious conservatives are interested in its possible implications for abortion law. Regina D. McKnight was convicted of homicide by child abuse for using cocaine during her pregnancy, which ended in a stillbirth. Several organizations have protested the sentence, saying it denies her the right to treat her body as she chooses. The South Carolina Supreme Court was divided on the case, but upheld it.

Pity that the Supreme Court turned this one away. While Supreme Court decisions in Jacoby and Lassonde would been more or less predictable, McKnight touches on a growing issue—fetal homicide laws—that is certain to remain in legislatures and the courts for some time.

More articles

10 Commandments:

More on politics and law:

  • Dispute over cross pits church vs. Broward County | A dispute about whether one of Broward County's largest churches can erect a religious display at the Holiday Festival of Lights threatens the popular show at Tradewinds Park (South Florida Sun-Sentinel)

  • Church, Broward fight over big cross | Broward County and one of the area's largest churches are at odds over church plans to erect a religious display during a December light show at a park (The Orlando Sentinel)

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Passion and movies:

  • Who'll buy Mel's movie? | Probably not a major studio, but an indie just might bite (Newsweek)

  • Mel's Passion gives John's 'Word' new venom | From beginning to end, the fourth gospel is an anti-Jewish tract (Terry Lane, The Age, Melbourne, Australia)

  • Gibson movie opens old wounds of anti-Semitism | Gibson seems oblivious to the fact that biblical "accounts" of the Crucifixion are not really accounts at all, at least not in the journalistic sense of the word (R. Scott Colglazier, Ft. Worth Star-Telegram)

  • X-treme Christians | Though many don't know it, Stephen Baldwin, the actor known for his role as a career criminal in the "The Usual Suspects" and, most recently, as part of the cast on ABC's reality show "Celebrity Mole," is a born-again Christian (The Oregonian)


  • Don't knock those who share faith at doorsteps | But before we give the heave-ho to the next well-meaning soul who invades our space, we ought to look at the bigger picture: The only reason they've come into our lives is to share the faith that puts a smile on their lips and a sermon in their hearts (Ken Garfield, The Charlotte Observer)

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  • College trains ministers to broadcast the gospel | North Greenville College's low-power FM station doesn't reach much farther than Travelers Rest, but it's part of a fast growing mass communications program at the school — itself part of a fast growing industry: media ministry (The Greenville News, S.C.)

  • TEAM may be an agent for social change | Convocation of evangelicals, Pentecostals, Catholics and mainline Protestants constituted an ecumenical gathering unprecedented in the 34 years I have lived in Tallahassee (Leo Sandon, Tallahassee Democrat, Fla.)

India's Dalits:


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