Officials seeking to bar students from forming a religion club and meeting for prayer and Bible study at a Renton, Wash., high school lost a Supreme Court appeal Monday.

10/04 Copyright 1993. The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. With
Permission.

WASHINGTON (AP) -- Officials seeking to bar students from forming a religion
club and meeting for prayer and Bible study at a Renton, Wash., high school
lost a Supreme Court appeal Monday. The justices, without comment, let stand a
ruling that forces recognition of such a club at Lindbergh High School.

A federal appeals court ruled last March that the Equal Access Act requires
school officials to give the religion club the same recognition and use of
facilities enjoyed by other student groups. School officials had argued that
the federal law must take a back seat to the Washington state Constitution,
which strictly prohibits any entanglement between public schools and religion.

Several Lindbergh High students sought permission in 1984 to form a religious
club that, like such groups as the chess and ski clubs, would meet at the
school when classes were not in session. School officials turned down the
request, and the students sued.

The Washington state Supreme Court ruled in 1989 that allowing a student
religion club to meet at the school would violate the separation of church and
state the federal Constitution requires.

But the nation's highest court in 1990 upheld the Equal Access Act as
constitutional. That federal law requires public schools receiving federal
money to allow student religious groups to meet and worship if other student
clubs are permitted at school. The justices later told the Washington state
courts to restudy the Lindbergh High case.

A federal trial judge again ruled against the students, concluding that the
Washington Constitution did not allow religious groups in public schools.

But the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals last March said the federal law
requiring equal access for religious groups trumps the state's constitution.

"If the (federal law) did not pre-empt state law, then states could freely opt
out of its requirements," the appeals court said. "Congress did not intend to
permit the states to thwart its objectives by outlawing speech based on its
religious content, and thereby discriminate on that basis."

Stating that Congress had given religious student groups "a federal right,"
the appeals court said, "State law must therefore yield."

In the appeal acted on Monday, lawyers for the Renton school district said the
appeals court ruling "does irreparable harm to the sovereignty of the state."

Legal documents filed in the case show that each side in the controversy
believes it is defending individual rights.

School district officials believe the Washington Constitution offers students
greater protection from government meddling with religion. But students and
former students challenging the school district's policy believe their
religious freedom was being hindered.

The case is Renton School District 403 vs. Garnett, 92-1890.


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