Utah officials concerned with litigation on graduation prayers in schools welcomed the news Monday that the U.S. Supreme Court will study the issue.
The court's decision will "put all of the Utah cases on hold, I'm sure," said Douglas Bates, legal/legislative counsel to the State Office of Education. The American Civil Liberties Union filed suit last year against Alpine and Granite districts for allowing high school graduation prayers.The state could save "hundreds of thousands of dollars" if the U.S. District Court for Utah decides to forestall litigation pending the high court decision, Bates said.
That decision will be up to Judge J. Thomas Greene, who has been handling the Utah cases. Greene has indicated he wasn't interested in pursuing the suits if the Supreme Court is to rule on the issues, Bates said.
Michele Parish, ACLU director for Utah, said she will meet soon with plaintiffs in the Utah cases to decide whether they prefer to push for a resolution in this state pending the Supreme Court decision.
An interim decision from the Utah court is likely to determine if school districts can continue their present practices regarding graduation prayers or whether the practice must be put on hold pending the Supreme Court ruling, Bates said.
Gov. Norm Bangerter said the Supreme Court's decision to accept the Rhode Island appeal "confirms our position that the issue of graduation prayer will not be resolved until the court rules. Their decision proves that the issue remains an open question and is not clear given current constitutional law. We look forward to the decision and will abide by it as it applies to Utah."
Granite Superintendent Loren G. Burton hailed the high court's acceptance of the prayer issue as "wonderful. There are many parallels (between the Utah and Rhode Island cases). A Supreme Court decision will probably clear the air for many of the things that are in dispute here."
His high schools will continue to make individual decisions regarding prayers, he said. "The bottom line is that it is a court issue. We'll let the courts decide."
Alpine Superintendent Steven Baugh said, "We are gratified that the Supreme Court has apparently decided to deal with the question of prayer as it relates to high school graduation ceremonies." Although the district needs more details on the scope of the court's deliberations, he said, Alpine will continue "with our tradition of allowing prayers at graduation exercises, if school committees desire them."