March 5 (AP) - A California high school valedictorian who was
barred from giving a graduation speech in which he planned to
ask the audience to ``accept God's love'' and live by ``Jesus'
example'' lost a Supreme Court appeal Monday.
The court, without comment, turned down the former student's
argument that public school district officials violated his
rights by refusing to let him give a speech that a lower court
described as a ``religious sermon.''
Last June the justices ruled that public schools cannot let
students lead stadium crowds in prayer before football games.
The ruling said allowing such prayers would violate the
constitutionally required separation of government and religion.
In 1992 the justices barred clergy-led prayers - invocations
and benedictions - at public school graduation ceremonies.
Chris Niemeyer was co-valedictorian of his graduating class
at Oroville High School in June 1998. He submitted an advance
copy of his speech to school officials, who told him he must
tone down the religious references in it.
In the speech, he planned to ask the audience to ``pattern
our lives after Jesus' example'' and to ``accept God's love and
grace.'' The proposed speech also said, ``God seeks a personal
relationship with each one of us ... Jesus wants to be our best
After Niemeyer refused to change the speech, he was not
allowed to deliver it at the graduation.
He filed a civil-rights lawsuit seeking financial damages
from school district officials. A federal judge ruled against
him, as did the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals last October.
The proposed speech was ``a religious sermon'' and allowing
it as part of the graduation ceremony ``would amount to
government sponsorship of, and coercion to participate in,
particular religious practices,'' the appeals court said.
In the appeal acted on Monday, Niemeyer's lawyers said the
appeals court's ruling ``runs directly counter to the Supreme
Court's historic protection of preaching and religious
invitations as fully protected First Amendment free speech
The school district's lawyers said the proposed speech was a
``religious testimonial'' and that to allow it would violate
church-state separation. His co-valedictorian, who was Jewish,
had raised objections to the speech, they added.