Utah is not joining into a school-prayer lawsuit with a Rhode Island school district - at least not yet.
Utah state school and government officials canceled a scheduled news conference on the issue at the last minute Wednesday morning.It had been expected that state officials would use the news conference to announce that Utah was filing an amicus curiae - or friend of the court - brief in the graduation prayer case of a Providence, R.I., school district.
But the Rhode Island school board has not publicly decided whether to take its lawsuit to the Supreme Court.
The 1st Circuit Court of Appeals, of which Rhode Island is a part, ruled on July 23 that the school district's graduation prayers by clergy were unconstitutional.
The Eastern school board had been expected to vote publicly Tuesday night on whether to pursue its case with the top court but did not take action, said Bud Scruggs, chief of staff to Gov. Norm Bangerter.
Scruggs, State Superintendent of Public Instruction Jay B. Taggart and state school office attorney Carol Lear fielded questions in the hall of the State Office of Education as reporters, unaware the news conference had been canceled, arrived.
Utah's involvement in the Rhode Island case - whether with an amicus brief, statement of support or no involvement - will hinge on how that school district appeals its case, the officials said.
The Rhode Island case involved a benediction offered by a rabbi at a junior high school commencement.
"The big part of what Utah can or can't do is how they (Rhode Island) decide to frame their question to the Supreme Court. If their question is: Can you bring a local minister in to give a prayer?, that really isn't our point. That isn't what's happening in Utah schools. If they broaden the question to say: Is there a place for graduation prayer, in general, that's our point," Scruggs said.
Taggart, however, said he has received indications that Rhode Island will broaden the scope of its suit.
But, even if it doesn't, sometimes the high court will take a specific question and then extend it to the broad application, Scruggs explained.
Both officials said it would be financially advantageous for Utah to throw in with Rhode Island. Filing an amicus brief would probably cost the state a only few hundred dollars, they said.
What if Rhode Island asks Utah to chip in a greater amount? "They could ask," Taggart replied.
However, even in that situation, it would still be much less costly than having Utah pursue its own case, they said.
Lear said whatever Rhode Island does, it will have to be soon. The Supreme Court has a deadline on appels after a Circuit Court decision, and Rhode Island has only a few weeks left, she said.