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ACLU CALLS FOR PROBE OF REXBURG SCHOOLS, SAYS LINE BETWEEN CHURCH, STATE BLURRED

SHARE ACLU CALLS FOR PROBE OF REXBURG SCHOOLS, SAYS LINE BETWEEN CHURCH, STATE BLURRED

The American Civil Liberties Union is asking the incoming superintendent of the Madison School District to investigate complaints that the lines between the LDS Church and the public school system are blurred.

It's an issue that has surfaced in other eastern Idaho school districts this year in areas with heavy concentration of membership in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.In a letter last week to new Superintendent Chris Mattocks, ACLU attorney Stephen Pevar, Denver, said some students and taxpayers in the district claim the church plays a prominent role in the Rexburg schools.

"In general it appears that there is a significant combination of church and state within the school district," he said.

Among other concerns cited by Pevar on behalf of the unidentified patrons:

- In two social studies classes, teachers asked students, "How many of you are Mormon?" and, "How many of you are going on missions?"

- Some teachers are called "brother" or "sister" rather than Mr., Ms. or Mrs.

- The LDS seminary instructor conducts parent-teacher conferences in the same room and at the same time as public school parent-teacher conferences.

- Prayers are part of official ceremonies during graduation exercises and at athletic events.

- Graduation has been conducted at Ricks College, a Mormon institution.

- Parents of graduating seniors have been asked by school officials to comply with LDS dress standards at graduation.

Mattocks, Cutbank, Mont., takes over as superintendent this week. He said he has not read the letter from the ACLU, but he has no problem with holding commencements in churches or private college buildings, if the facilities are better, or with reciting prayers at graduation services or athletic events.

"I have no problem asking God's guidance in all that we do," he said.

Mattocks said he will consult the school board before responding to the letter from Pevar.

Retiring Superintendent Edward Hill said he will refer the matter to his successor. But he said no parents have lodged complaints with him.

"I really think that concerns of this kind are common when there is a strong majority of one faith," he said. "It is a normal outgrowth of a minority living in a majority culture."

Hill said district practices are not unconstitutional. He said the district's attorney, Fred Hahn, has said prayer at voluntary school functions such as graduations is permissible.

Hill also defended the use of Hart Auditorium at Ricks College for commencement exercises, saying it is the only place in Rexburg large enough to accommodate district graduates. Ricks College is a private, two-year college operated by the LDS Church at Rexburg.