Court Rules Public Schools Cannot Ban Prayer Groups

STUDENT prayer groups must be allowed to meet at public schools that permit other organized extracurricular activities, the United States Supreme Court ruled Monday. The justices, voting 8 to 1, said that a 1984 federal law aimed at permitting religious clubs in public schools does not violate constitutionally required separation of church and state. The court overruled Omaha, Neb., school officials who refused to approve a high school Bible-reading club.

Justice Sandra Day O'Connor, writing for the court, said the Equal Access Act of 1984 passes the court's longstanding three-part test aimed at assuring separation of church and state.

Justice O'Connor said there is little risk that students will view an extracurricular Bible-reading club as indicating school officials endorse religion.

In other action, the high court:

Rejected a request by an unusual coalition of religious groups that it reconsider its decision letting states outlaw the use of illegal drugs in religious ceremonies. The April 17 decision regarding use of peyote did not require states to have a ``compelling reason'' before forcing someone to comply with laws interfering with religious practice.

Ruled that police undercover agents may seek to elicit confessions from jailed criminal suspects without first having to give so-called Miranda warnings.

Used a dispute over Haitian refugee rights to strengthen a federal law requiring the government to pay legal fees to winning opponents in lawsuits.

Ruled that nuclear industry ``whistle-blowers'' who say they were disciplined for complaining about lax safety may sue their employers under state personal injury laws. The court said such suits are not preempted by a US law protecting such whistle-blowers.

Agreed to study the government's power to lift price controls on some natural gas, a case that has tens of millions of dollars at stake for consumers.

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