Justices refuse challenge to state law on Easter holidays

High court doesn't hear claim on closing schools

January 19, 2000|By Lyle Denniston | Lyle Denniston,SUN NATIONAL STAFF

WASHINGTON -- The Supreme Court turned away yesterday a constitutional challenge to a Maryland law requiring all public schools to close Good Friday and Easter Monday.

In a brief order, and without explanation, the court refused to hear a claim by a retired Montgomery County teacher, Judith M. Koenick, that the law -- dating to 1865 -- unconstitutionally promotes the Christian religion.

The court's action does not mean that the justices support the state law, only that they were not ready to confront the issue. The court might soon have another chance to do so, because an Indiana case involving a similar Good Friday law remains pending.

In the Maryland case, the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Richmond upheld the law in August, saying it was not designed to support any religion. It accepted the county school board's argument that the days off are necessary for a reason having nothing to do with religion -- because of the high rate of absenteeism among students and teachers around Easter weekend.

The holiday, the appeals court noted, is also the anchor for a full week of spring vacation.

The days off, it added, do not endorse the Christian holiday on Good Friday or Easter Sunday, because all students and teachers, whatever their religion or lack of it, get the time off.

Koenick's unsuccessful appeal to the Supreme Court was supported by the American Jewish Congress.

The retired teacher argued in her appeal that lower courts have used widely varying reasons when they have ruled on Good Friday closing laws, so the Supreme Court should step in to provide clear guidance.

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