WASHINGTON, Jan 17 (Reuters) - The U.S. Supreme Court
passed up the chance on Tuesday to hear controversial new cases
about prayers before public government meetings and punishing
students for Internet parodies or attacks made on computers at
The high court rejected appeals by local government and
school district officials who argued that opening their meetings
with prayers did not violate the constitutional requirement on
In one case, the justices let stand a U.S. appeals court
ruling that predominately Christian prayers at the start of
local Forsyth County commission meetings in North Carolina
violated the constitutional prohibition on government
endorsement of a particular religion.
The American Civil Liberties Union, which helped bring the
legal challenge on behalf of two longtime residents, said it was
glad the case now was settled.
"It is entirely inappropriate for government officials to
endorse one set of religious beliefs over others by routinely
opening public meetings with sectarian prayers," said Daniel
Mach of the ACLU's Freedom of Religion and Belief Program.
In the other case, the justices declined to review a U.S.
appeals court ruling that struck down the policy of a school
board in Delaware of opening each meeting with a prayer, calling
it an unconstitutional government endorsement of religion.
And in two other cases, the justices refused to take up the
right of schools to punish students who create online parodies
or attacks on school officials or other students from computers
In one case the court turned down, a West Virginia high
school student, Kara Kowalski, was suspended for five days in
2005 for creating a web page suggesting another student had a
sexually transmitted disease and inviting classmates to comment.
Kowalski argued the suspension violated her free-speech
rights and that school officials did not have the authority to
punish her because she created the web page at home.
The justices let stand a ruling by a U.S. appeals court
based in Virginia that school officials had the right to
discipline Kowalski for harassing, bullying, ridiculing and
demeaning another student.
That ruling appeared to conflict with one by a U.S. appeals
court based in Philadelphia in a case from Pennsylvania about
parodies of principals on the MySpace social network site.
The appeals court held the parodies were unlikely to cause
significant disruptions at school and ruled for the students.
A high school student, Justin Layshock, created a profile of
his principal in which he said he smoked marijuana, drank
alcohol and engaged in lewd behavior. And an unidentified eighth
grade student created a profile of her principal that said he
enjoyed having sex in his office and propositioning students and
The Supreme Court cases are Forsyth County, North Carolina
v. Joyner, No 11-546; Indian River School District v. Doe, No.
11-569; Kowalski v. Berkeley County Schools, No. 11-461; and
Blue Mountain School District v. J.S., No. 11-502.
For Forsyth County: David Cortman of the Alliance Defense
For Joyner: Katherine Lewis Parker of the ACLU of North
Carolina Legal Foundation.
For Indian River School District: Jason Gosselin of Drinker,
biddle & Reath.
For Doe: Thomas Allingham II.
For Kowalski: Adam Charnes of Kilpatrick Townsend &
For Berkeley County Schools: Amy Smith of Steptoe & Johnson.
For Blue Mountain School District: James Ryan of University
of Virginia Law School.
For J.S.: Witold Walczak of the ACLU of Pennsylvania.
(Reporting By James Vicini)
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