The US Supreme Court Monday refused to hear a lawsuit against the Church of Christ, Scientist, and two Christian Science practitioners in Michigan. The civil suit arose from the 1977 death of Matthew Swan, an infant who died as a result of complications from what was medically diagnosed as meningitis.

The justices let stand a Michigan Supreme Court ruling upholding the state Court of Appeals and a county circuit court. Both had refused to order a trial on grounds that the suit would violate the religious freedom of the church and its members.

The case has been in litigation for more than 10 years. Lawyers for the child's estate had demanded a trial, insisting that the practitioners, who had prayed for Matthew at his parents' request, were negligent and had misdiagnosed the case.

But a lawyer representing the church pointed out that the practitioners never offered any medical diagnosis and that to place the issue before a court would amount to placing the Christian Science religion on trial.

The Michigan appeals court ruled that ``religious conduct is permissible and protected unless the state can show a compelling interest in interfering with the conduct. Even then, the state must act in the least restrictive manner. We find no merit in [the] argument that ... [a negligence suit] is the least restrictive means of regulating spiritual healing practice.''

``The Supreme Court decision to let this ruling stand ... confirms the fundamental integrity of our system of justice,'' said David Nartonis, a church spokesman. ``For a religion whose record of love and good care for children has been too often ignored, this is deeply significant.''

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