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Purdy Dance Case Takes Another Turn Around The Courtroom Floor

April 10, 1989

ST. LOUIS (AP) _ A small town school board asked a federal appeals court Monday to let it reinstate a ban on dancing, but dance advocates argued that students should be allowed to remain footloose.

″The rule against dancing may not be smart or reasonable, but that doesn’t mean it’s unconstitutional,″ said Ransom Ellis III of Springfield, attorney for the Purdy School Board in southwestern Missouri.

An opposing attorney argued that such a ban would be a constitutional violation.

Both sides presented oral arguments before a three-judge panel of the 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. The court took the case under advisement and will rule later.

The Purdy School Board is appealing U.S. District Judge Russell G. Clark’s ruling in August that the nearly century-old ban on dancing on school property violated the constitutional amendment regarding the separation of church and state.

After Clark’s ruling, students made history in December with a homecoming dance in the school gymnasium. And now, juniors and seniors are planning a May prom at school.

Ellis and the school board have maintained that the ban was a question of policy and had nothing to do with religion.

″There is no religious purpose here,″ said Ellis. ″There is no evidence that the policy advances religion.″

Attorney Larry M. Schumaker of Kansas City, who was brought into the case by the American Civil Liberties Union on behalf of students, maintained that religion was the sole reason for the no-dance rule.

″There is no valid secular reason for the rule,″ said Schumaker. ″We asked the board to give us a valid secular reason for the rule. They finally said they were just going along with public opinion.″

Clark awarded about $80,000 in attorneys fees and expenses to Schumaker and lawyer William Fleischaker of Joplin.

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