Even after a U.S. Supreme Court decision banned public schools from sponsoring prayer for their students, Utah school districts continued to arrange for prayers based on Mormon scriptures to be said at extra-curricular events.
Two of the most noteworthy school prayer lawsuits in Utah, targeted at ending that practice, were filed in 1990. The U.S. Supreme Court addressed the issues involved in a ruling it issued two years later in a Rhode Island case.
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After the High Court banned organized school-sponsored prayer for students in 1962, Utah officials contended a "gray area" remained regarding whether districts could legally arrange for prayers at the beginning or end of activities such as graduations and sporting events, the New York Times reported.
The Utah affiliate of the American Civil Liberties Union reacted in 1990 by filing lawsuits on behalf of four students, their parents, and two teachers against the Alpine and Granite school districts seeking to end prayers at graduation ceremonies and other school functions, the Chicago Tribune said.
The plaintiffs had attended school activities that included the recitation of prayers of the Mormon Church, also known as the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, that newspaper said. It wrote that as a result of the suits, "The long-simmering differences between Mormons and non-Mormons in Utah – where virtually every aspect of life is dominated by the Mormon Church – have come to a full boil."
The Utah cases remained pending at the time the U.S. Supreme Court addressed the questions involved in its 1992 decision in the Rhode Island case of Lee v. Weisman. The High Court concluded in a 5-4 vote that "schools may not promote religious exercises either directly or through an invited guest at graduation ceremonies," said The First Amendment Center.
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The Supreme Court provided further guidance regarding school prayer when it issued a 2000 ruling in a Texas case banning students from using a public school’s loudspeaker system to initiate and lead prayer, with the High Court saying on its website
that action constituted school-sponsored prayer because the school owned the loudspeakers.
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