3:02pm

Tue January 17, 2012
Law

High Court Lets Stand Trio Of First Amendment Cases

The U.S. Supreme Court on Tuesday declined to hear a trio of cases involving free speech and religion.

In the first set of cases, the court declined to address the burgeoning legal debate over what powers school officials have to censor students who are at home, working on their personal computers, when they create parodies or personal attacks involving school officials or fellow students.

In doing so, the court left in place an appeals court ruling that upheld the suspension of a West Virginia cheerleader who created a Myspace page dedicated to ridiculing a fellow student for supposedly having herpes. But the justices also declined to hear another case from Pennsylvania with a somewhat contrary ruling. In that case, a lower court held that school administrators could not punish students for vulgar online parodies of school principals.

The cases presented the Supreme Court with an opportunity to update its student-speech rulings in the age of social networking. The court held in 1969 that schools cannot punish non-disruptive political speech, but the justices narrowed that ruling in 1986, allowing school administrators to punish lewd or vulgar student speech.

In a third case Tuesday, the court let stand a lower court ruling that barred a North Carolina county government board from opening its meetings with mostly Christian prayers.

The Board of Commissioners in Forsyth County, N.C., contended that during religious invocations before its meetings, its doors were open to clerics from many faiths. But the Fourth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, based in Richmond, Va., found that from 2007 to 2008, three quarters of the 33 invocations at meetings of the Forsyth County commissioners referred to Jesus Christ in some way.

The appeals court concluded that by heavily favoring Christianity in its offerings, the county board was violating the First Amendment's ban on government endorsement of a particular religion. The justices' action Tuesday leaves that appeals court ruling in place.

Copyright 2012 National Public Radio. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.