Federal appeals court hears Nebraska school prayer case

Posted: Friday, June 13, 2003

ST. PAUL, Minn. (AP) A school prayer case went before a federal appeals court Monday the latest twist in a three-year dispute over recitation of ''The Lord's Prayer'' at a Nebraska graduation ceremony.

A Norfolk, Neb., family sued the school district and Norfolk school board member Jim Scheer after he led students in the prayer at the 2000 graduation. Scheer's son was one of the outgoing seniors.

At issue is whether Scheer was speaking on his own behalf or on behalf of the district. Board members customarily have been allowed to speak at commencement if their child is graduating. Scheer said he was not representing the district when he recited the prayer.

The family that sued isn't identified in court filings, but said the prayer violated the constitutional separation of church and state.

U.S. District Judge Laurie Smith of Omaha, Neb., had ruled earlier that she found no evidence that school officials knew what Scheer would say before the ceremony.

The American Civil Liberties Union asked the 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals to consider the case.

The ACLU said it had contacted the school before the ceremony and warned officials that a planned prayer violated the Constitution. The school announced the scheduled prayer had been removed from the program. Scheer was allowed to speak, however, and led the students in prayer.

The U.S. Supreme Court ruled in 2000 that prayer in public schools must be done in private or it violates the separation of church and state.

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