Attorney General Paul Van Dam asked Friday for a "cease-fire" on high school graduation prayers this spring while a case similar to the ACLU's challenge against Utah schools is considered by the U.S. Supreme Court.
"I think there needs to be no prayer," Van Dam said, calling for school districts to "adopt a posture of neutrality - a cease-fire" now that the nation's high court has agreed to hear a graduation-prayer case.The Supreme Court announced Monday it will hear an appeal of a Rhode Island court's ban on school prayer that was upheld last year by the 1st Circuit Court of Appeals.
Utah will file a friend-of-the-court brief in May in that case, which involves high school graduation prayers. It is expected to be argued before the Supreme Court this fall.
The American Civil Liberties Union of Utah filed suit last July in U.S. District Court seeking to ban prayer at high school graduation ceremonies and other extracurricular events.
Named in the suit are the Granite and Alpine school districts, although the ACLU has warned more names could be added if other districts allow prayers at this year's ceremonies.
Van Dam's advice does not sit well with Gov. Norm Bangerter, according to the governor's chief of staff, Bud Scruggs. "It's closer to a surrender than a cease-fire," Scruggs said.Bangerter has supported the right of school districts to decide whether to allow graduation prayers and has suggested that a moment of silence could be observed as an alternative to a spoken prayer.
"What the governor's advice to school districts would be is, `Don't listen to the ACLU. Don't listen to anybody else. Listen to the people who were elected to make decisions, your school boards, and to the legal counsel you've chosen. We'll support you either way,' " Scruggs said.
Also Friday, Van Dam said he expects to hire a Utah law firm to help represent the state against another challenge expected from the ACLU, this time to Utah's new, restrictive abortion law.
"We've completed an analysis of our ability to handle it in-house, and we're leaning strongly toward outside counsel," he said, adding that he probably won't accept help offered by a national pro-life organization.
Van Dam said lawmakers have set aside $100,000 towards the defense of the law, which outlaws most abortions. The cost of defending the law has been estimated at as much as $1 million.