Court upholds ruling on graduation prayer

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WASHINGTON — The Supreme Court has rejected a constitutional challenge to Indiana University's custom of clergymembers offering prayers as part of its official commencement ceremony.

The justices, without comment, turned away arguments Monday that the state university's custom violates the constitutionally required separation between church and state.

The high court ruled in 1992 that clergymembers could not lead such prayers at public grade school or high school graduation ceremonies. But the decision said the rule might not apply to officially sponsored prayers at a public university or a city council meeting.

The court let stand a U.S. appeals court ruling, which noted that the university's practice "has prevailed for 155 years and is widespread throughout the nation."

"The university's inclusion of a brief, nonsectarian invocation and benediction does not have a primary effect of endorsing" religion, the appeals court said. "There is no excessive entanglement of church and state."

Marc Stern, co-director of the American Jewish Congress' legal department, called the court ruling "unfortunate but predictable."

He stressed, however, that the justices' refusal to hear the case should not be viewed as a "weakening of the court's position" on prayer at graduation ceremonies.