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High court refuses to consider fight over Columbine memorial

By The Associated Press

01.14.03

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DENVER — Brian Rohrbough, whose son Danny was killed in the Columbine High School massacre, says school officials have no business telling him what he can say in two 4-inch tiles that are part of a victims' memorial.

But the U.S. Supreme Court is allowing just such censorship, he says.

The high court yesterday declined, without comment, to hear an appeal of a ruling that bars families from placing tiles that make reference to God with the 4,000 others along the school's corridors above the 6-foot-high lockers.

"If you asked me to create a memory of my son, it is always going to include a reference to God because it is a core value," said Rohrbough. He said the tile was not meant to proselytize and only someone standing very close would be able to see what was on the individual tiles.

"It is all a pretext to keep religious symbols out of the schools," said lawyer James Rouse, who represented Rohrbough and the parents of Kelly Fleming, a student also killed in the attack.

Rick Kaufman, spokesman for the Jefferson County School District, said it had done what was best for the school and students to avoid dwelling on the killings. He said other memorials were established outside the school.

Rohrbough claimed the district was retaliating for criticism of its failure to avert the April 20, 1999, attack that left 12 students, teacher Dave Sanders and teen gunmen Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold dead.

The school district had invited parents to create tiles as part of the renovation of the school after the attack. Officials said the tiles should not be a memorial, which would remind students of the killing. Ground rules included that none would carry a religious theme, observing the constitutional requirement that church and state remain separate.

Rouse disputed that the issue was whether students should be reminded of the killing. He said a plaque hanging in the school office says "God Weeps Over Columbine," and "they have a clock that is stopped at 11:10" — the moment the attack began.

Kaufman said there also is a plaque in the new school library listing the names of the victims, but counselors did not want to focus on the massacre in highly trafficked areas. The goal was to minimize disruption.

A federal judge ruled in favor of the parents on free-speech grounds, but that decision was overturned by the 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, which said the district had a right to censor what is said in a school-sponsored activity. The Supreme Court declined to hear an appeal of that decision.

Kaufman said the district could have removed all the tiles once the dispute developed. "That would have been spiteful. The bottom line is that as difficult as it has been to be in opposition to the family, especially in the courts, we have really tried to work with the families of the victims to help in the healing process," he said.

Previous

Appeals court upholds Columbine's ban on religious tiles
10th Circuit overturns federal judge's ruling requiring high school to hang memorial tiles painted by families of two slain students.  06.28.02

Related

2002-2003 Supreme Court term coverage
Analysis and other coverage of 2002-2003 U.S. Supreme Court term.  10.07.02

School's handling of memorial tiles adds sadness to Columbine tragedy
By Charles Haynes Legal fight ends as Supreme Court refuses to consider parents' appeal, chance to bring healing to wounded community also is lost.  01.19.03

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