The state of Idaho will formally endorse the bid by Rhode Island to have the U.S. Supreme Court overturn a federal appellate court ruling barring nondenominational prayer at school graduation ceremonies.
Outgoing Attorney General Jim Jones said Monday the state would join the attorney general of Utah in backing the petition filed two weeks ago asking the nation's highest court to decide the increasingly contentious issue."School authorities contend, and I agree with them, that the U.S. Constitution is not offended by the traditional giving of prayer at a commence ceremony," said Jones, who is returning to private practice next week after an unsuccessful bid for the Republican U.S. Senate nomination last spring.
Democrat Larry EchoHawk, who will succeed Jones as attorney general on Monday, made it clear throughout his campaign that he also believed nondenominational invocations should be permitted at public events such as school graduation.
The Rhode Island case involved a rabbi who gave a benediction at a middle school graduation ceremony. A three-judge panel of the 1st U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals held last summer that the act violated the constitutional mandate for separation of church and state.
"I can't imagine that the Supreme Court will uphold the decision to banish graduation prayers," Jones said.
"There's always been a mix," Jones said. "We can't go overboard. But we've just gotten overboard in trying to stamp prayer out of schools."
He pointed out that to date there has been no ruling from any court with jurisdiction over Idaho that would ban prayer at school graduation ceremonies. At the same time, however, Jones acknowledged legal actions taken by the American Civil Liberties Union to stop what it claims are intrusive religious practices in some school districts.
"The cautious legal advice would be to avoid risking litigation," Jones said. "But, on the other hand, this country was built on boldness and an abiding belief in a supreme being."
In a serious of legal confrontations over the past year, the ACLU reached an out-of-court settlement with officials of the Rockland School District over religious practices and has filed suit against the Rexburg school officials over similar activities.
The organization's activism prompted the deputy attorney general for the state Department of Education to advise school officials throughout the state last fall to drop plans for prayers at school events if they want to stay out of court.