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High court to hear church-state cases

The Supreme Court opened its new term Monday by agreeing to take up two cases testing relations between church and state, an issue that split the court last term.

The justices said they will decide in an Arizona case whether public schools must pay for sign-language interpreters for deaf children attending parochial schools.

They also voted to decide in a case from New York whether groups may be banned from using public schools during non-school hours for "religious purposes."

At issue is the balance between two clauses of the Constitution's First Amendment: One prohibits government "establishment" of religion; the other stops government from "prohibiting the free exercise" of religion by individuals.

The court, returning from its three-month summer recess with a blizzard of paperwork, issued orders in more than 1,400 cases. Here are some of those cases:

Haitian repatriation: The court agreed to rule on President Bush's May 24 order that all refugees rescued at sea must be returned to Haiti without a hearing to consider their reasons for fleeing their country.

A decision in the case, expected next year, could have far-reaching impact on whether U.S. laws in effect for decades protect refugees before they reach U.S. territory.

Sexual harassment: The justices let stand a ruling that forced Chrysler Corp. to rehire an employee it fired for grabbing a woman co-worker's breasts and returning to a phone conversation to say, "Yup, they're real."

The court, without comment, rejected the company's argument that a lower court was wrong to uphold a labor arbitrator's rehire order because it harms efforts to combat sexual harassment in the workplace.

Arbitrator Jay Grenig ordered Chrysler to rehire the man with back pay, minus 30 days' salary, because firing usually is justified for "extremely serious offenses, such as stealing or striking a foreman."

Death row appeals: The court rejected the appeals of three Florida death row inmates, leaving intact the convictions and death sentences of Bruce Douglas Pace, Samuel Andrew Pettit and Terrell M. Johnson. It ordered reviews of the death penalties of Anthony J. Ponticelli and George Hodges.

Police frisks: The justices agreed to decide if police who frisk someone for weapons may search further without a warrant if they detect something that feels like illegal drugs. Minnesota prosecutors argue that police were sure they detected a rock of crack cocaine during a pat-down and that items found in "plain feel" should be admissible evidence, like items found "in plain view."

FBI sources: The court agreed to decide if the FBI may withhold identities of all sources contacted during criminal investigations. Lower courts refused to give the FBI automatic exemption under the federal Freedom of Information Act.

IRA assistance: The court let stand a New Hampshire man's conviction and 10-year prison sentence for secretly helping the Irish Republican Army build better bombs. The justices rejected arguments that the government illegally spied on Richard Johnson and his parents.

Insurance coverage: The court agreed to consider killing a huge antitrust lawsuit filed by 19 states, numerous local governments and businesses against four major insurance companies accused of plotting to reduce the liability coverage businesses buy.

Disturbance of peace: The court turned down the appeal of minister John Wesley Marks, convicted of disturbing the peace for preaching his anti-abortion message too loudly outside a West Palm Beach medical center.

Drug search: In a Winter Haven case, the court let stand rulings that said running from police does not justify officers stopping a person when there is no evidence of a crime. The court rejected an appeal by prosecutors who sought to use as trial evidence the cocaine and a handgun seized after such a stop.

_ Information from AP, Reuters and Scripps Howard News Service was used in this report.