Supreme Court Ruling Leaves Public Schools in Limbo

By Susan Jones | July 7, 2008 | 8:05 PM EDT

( - Public school administrators hoping for Supreme Court guidance on religious matters were disappointed with Monday's rulings on the Ten Commandments.

The National School Boards Association -- a federation representing the 95,000 school board members who serve America's 15,000 public school districts -- said the rulings failed to clarify church-state controversies that have plagued school districts nationwide.

"We are concerned that the court's lack of clarity will continue to leave our school children at the mercy of litigious groups, on both sides of the issue, that love to make public schools their favorite legal battleground," said Anne L. Bryant, NSBA executive director, in a press release.

On Monday, the justices struck down the display of the Ten Commandments in Kentucky courthouses, but they upheld a Ten Commandments monument on public property near the Texas State Capitol in Austin.

"These decisions tell us that the court will continue to approach these issues on a case-by-case basis, rather than giving school districts clear and consistent guidance," said Julie Underwood, NSBA general counsel. "I am afraid that confusion in schools will continue."

Earlier, the NSBA filed a friend-of-the-court brief in the Ten Commandments case, noting that school leaders are forced to rely on unclear and conflicting judicial guidance in church-state issues.

The brief urged the Supreme Court to adopt a consistent standard that would help school administrators decide the appropriate role of religion in public schools.

But instead, Monday's rulings only confused the issue: "If the Supreme Court itself struggles this much with these issues, just imagine the challenge for America's school boards," Underwood said.

In its friend-of-the-court brief, the NSBA offered examples of the "pervasive and frequent questions" regarding the role of religion in the public schools:

Those questions, as set out in the brief, include: How much religious music can be included in a school concert? How may schools recognize religious holidays? Can students distribute religious flyers in school? How far can teachers go in professing their personal religious beliefs within the school?

The NSBA said the Supreme Court, with Monday's mixed ruling, missed a "prime opportunity" to help public schools answer those and other questions.