- The Washington Times - Wednesday, January 19, 2000

State-ordered Good Friday holidays won a round in the Supreme Court yesterday, but the decision, in a Montgomery County, Md., schools case, won't end a church-state war that has gone on for decades.
The justices declined without comment to review a 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals decision upholding Maryland's law requiring that schools close on Good Friday and Easter Monday.
U.S. District Judge Alexander Williams Jr. threw out the lawsuit in 1997, saying the law did not violate the Constitution.
On Aug. 20, a three-judge appellate panel agreed, saying that "the four-day holiday around Easter is supported by a pragmatic, legitimate secular purpose."
In another case, a challenge to giving Indiana state employees a paid holiday on the day that commemorates the crucifixion of Christ remains before the high court, which awaits a response from Gov. Frank O'Bannon by Feb. 4.
Overall, 17 states declare all or part of the day a holiday. Case law on the issue is a thicket of contradictory constitutional rulings termed "chaotic" by the attorney for retired teacher Judith M. Koenick, who challenged the Maryland law.
Illinois and North Dakota also have enacted laws requiring schools to close on Good Friday, but the Illinois law was declared unconstitutional in a decision upheld in 1995 by the 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals and not appealed further.
Federal judges in Wisconsin and Florida have ruled Good Friday holiday laws unconstitutional. But the 6th and 9th circuits have upheld holiday pay for state workers in Kentucky and Hawaii.
The 4th Circuit ruled for Maryland after Montgomery County schools and its Board of Education were sued in 1996 by Judith Koenick, who said the law treated her Jewish religion as "not of equal importance" to Christianity. She had to use vacation days to observe the first two days of Passover, while Christians got a public holiday.
Her attorney, Eugene R. Fidell, said the Good Friday holiday was being challenged rather than the Christmas break because it is so much more religious.
"It's been broadly recognized that Christmas has been deluged by a Niagara of secularization," said Mr. Fidell, who argues that the school system should be allowed to close if potential absenteeism is high, but not as a matter of law designating religious holidays.
Montgomery County officials said the closing recognizes that many pupils and teachers would be absent and argued that Easter break has been granted since 1865 and "is no different" than Thanksgiving or Christmas.
"The increasingly secularized holiday of Easter … is a traditional time for Marylanders, like many other Americans, to begin Easter-related travel," school lawyers said in successfully urging the court to refuse to take the appeal.
In recent years, the school board decided, without being required by state law, to close on Yom Kippur and the first day of Rosh Hashana in anticipation of widespread absenteeism.
"I would applaud that policy… . Nobody wants the school board to waste money," Mr. Fidell said. "The difference is it … would no longer be a matter of legislative fiat in opposition to an empirical judgment about effective use of the school system."
Other states with Good Friday holiday laws are Delaware, Louisiana, New Jersey, North Carolina, Pennsylvania and Tennessee. California and Kentucky declare part of the day a paid holiday for employees, and Texas designates it an "optional holiday."
Maryland also requires public school holidays on Thanksgiving and the day after, Christmas Eve through New Year's Day, Memorial Day, and Election Day.
In other decisions, the court:
* Rejected G. Gordon Liddy's effort to avoid trial in a lawsuit charging he defamed Ida Maxwell Wells, a Democratic National Committee secretary who he contends became a public figure after the 1972 Watergate burglary and therefore must prove that "actual malice" motivated his accusation that she was involved in a call-girl ring linked to the DNC.
* Rejected the claim of former Indianapolis policeman Gerald Gillespie that the Second Amendment shields him from a 1996 federal law that denied him the right to carry a gun after his conviction on battery charges involving his ex-wife, a domestic-violence misdemeanor. Like other police officers in similar circumstances, he lost his job of 25 years.
* Declined to take tax cases involving beliefs by Gordon and Edith Browne, who are Quakers, that paying fees and interest on the portion of federal tax that funds the military undermines their religious objection to war, and the contention by Michael and Michelle Kent that they should be allowed to deduct sports-gambling losses from previous years despite IRS rules allowing gamblers to deduct only losses from the current year to offset winnings.
* Declined requests by Alabama prisoners who are HIV-positive to join activities with the main prison population, from whom they are routinely isolated to avoid spreading infection with the AIDS virus.
* Rejected an appeal for imprisoned gangland godfather Vincent "the Chin" Gigante, who is battling his 1997 conviction and 12-year sentence for racketeering and murder conspiracy. He contended that he was denied a fair trial because former associate Peter Savino testified by two-way television from a distant location, where he was being treated for cancer.

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