March 2, 2005: Supreme Court to Hear Oral Arguments. NSBA Urges High Court to Clarify Religion Issues


Alexandria, Va., - March 1 - The Supreme Court should establish a clearer framework for determining violations of the constitutional principle of separation of church and state, according to the National School Boards Association (NSBA) in its friend of the court brief filed in McCreary County, Kentucky v. American Civil Liberties Union of Kentucky. Van Orden v. Perry will also be heard. The Court can use these cases to ease the conflict and confusion in the courts over the U.S. Constitution's Establishment Clause. The Court will hear oral arguments on March 2.

The cases will decide whether several county displays consisting of framed copies of the Ten Commandments in county courthouses violate the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment. A parallel case involving the display of the Ten Commandments in public schools is still pending review in the Court.

"This case provides an excellent opportunity for the Supreme Court to create a more comprehensible standard in Establishment Clause cases," said Julie Underwood, NSBA general counsel and author of the brief. "Currently, the intersection of public schools and religious faith is legally and politically fraught with peril. We need some clarity in the area to try to build greater consensus within the nation on the appropriate role of religion in our public schools. Often schools find themselves at the center of these disputes, really as the venue, not an active player."

Since the 1971 decision in Lemon v. Kurtzman, the 28 cases that have addressed the establishment of religion in public schools have yielded more than 100 different judicial opinions.

"School board members are urgently looking for clear guidance on how to answer questions regarding the role of religion in public schools," said Anne L. Bryant, NSBA executive director. "Board members set school policy on a range of issues that involve religion and every day their decisions are challenged by interest groups that continually use the schools as their forum to clarify the boundaries of religious rights."

According to the NSBA brief , school board members and public school administrators are forced to navigate the complex maze regarding the separation of church and state, and must rely on unclear and even conflicting judicial guidance. School districts face ever-increasing and more costly litigation from both sides: those claiming that schools are hostile to religion and those asserting that schools are foisting state-approved religion on students.

"In many situations, America's schools are in a no-win situation--the only thing they can control is which side sues them first," Underwood said

The National School Boards Association is a national federation of state school boards associations that represent more than 95,000 school board members who govern the nation's public schools. The organization's mission is to foster excellence and equity in public elementary and secondary education throughout the United States through local school board leadership.

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