ACLU drops challenge to Nevada policy on graduation prayer

By The Associated Press

LAS VEGAS — The American Civil Liberties Union has dropped its lawsuit against the Clark County School District after settling a dispute over prayers at graduation ceremonies.

The organization has voluntarily dismissed the federal lawsuit it filed against the district in March, ACLU lawyer Allen Lichtenstein said on June 27.

"At this point, we are satisfied that our concerns have been alleviated," Lichtenstein said.

The lawsuit asked for a declaration that a district policy allowing student-led prayer was unconstitutional. The school board voted 3-2 in February to uphold a policy allowing invocations and benedictions at graduations under certain conditions, despite objections from the district lawyers and the Nevada attorney general's office.

Superintendent Carlos Garcia warned board members their refusal to implement a ban jeopardized $70 million in federal funding, including money subsidizing the district's free and reduced lunch program.

In April, board members modified the policy so students could lead invocations or benedictions, as long as administrators don't check speeches ahead of time. But Garcia said the district would retain the right to review student speeches.

The ACLU agreed to dismiss its lawsuit after district lawyers put Garcia's position in writing, Lichtenstein said.

A ruling from the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals requires administrators to review student graduation speeches, a practice that has been in place at the Clark County School District for years, said district lawyer Bill Hoffman.

According to an April 21 directive from Hoffman, "When an administrator reviews student speech, she will substantially control the speech by ensuring that it does not contain speech which interferes with the educational process, is lewd, profane, threatening, proselytizing or constitutes prayer."

Lichtenstein said the ACLU has the right to revive its lawsuit if the school district decides to allow prayer at future graduation ceremonies.

"We have been assured this will not happen, and we'll take the school district at their word," he said.