Weighed against the risk of an expensive lawsuit, graduation prayer lost in the Murray School District.

The district board decided Wednesday to urge the students planning the 1991 graduation ceremony to include reference to the country's spiritual underpinnings, but to exclude sectarian prayer.District Superintendent Ronald Stephens told the board that a lawsuit over graduation prayer could cost the district $15,000. Board president Laura Baker noted that state education officials had advised the district to forgo prayer.

Board member Bruce Cutler read a prepared statement on his position on the issue. The United States was founded on religious principles, he said, and citizens need to acknowledge their trust in God.

"The founders of our country had a firm belief in a divine being," he said.

The board decided that the students may include in the graduation ceremony poetry, prose or music that has a reverent theme but is not a prayer.

Stephens supplied the students with a copy of Cutler's statement, which may be adapted for the ceremony.

"It's appropriate that there be some part of the graduation program that would recognize the spiritual nature of our country, but there will not be a sectarian prayer," Stephens said.

The American Civil Liberties Union of Utah filed suit last July in U.S. District Court seeking a ban on prayer at high school graduations and other extracurricular activities.