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Jesse Jackson Blocked From Decatur

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DECATUR, Ill. (AP) — A judge today backed the school board's decision to bar the Rev. Jesse Jackson and other Rainbow/PUSH Coalition members from the graduation of two students expelled for fighting at a football game. A spokeswoman for Jackson said he would honor the ruling.

Macey Morales said Jackson would proceed with a planned trip to Europe, and wouldn't try to attend graduation tonight for two of the six students who were expelled last year.

``The last thing he wants to do is to have the Decatur school board use him as a diversion to deflect'' from the graduation, Morales said.

In his decision, Macon County Circuit Court Judge James Hendrian said his past rulings are clear that Jackson and other protesters need permission to come onto school grounds.

Jackson's attorney, Lewis Myers Jr., said the judge is sanctioning the school board's desire to squelch free speech.

``This is speech because the reason Jesse Jackson is not (allowed to attend) is because he has challenged the authority of the school board. It's a desecration to those who authored the First Amendment,'' Myers said.

School board attorney Everett Nicholas said Jackson's presence would unfairly detract from the celebration of hundreds of graduates.

``These other people do not have any direct interest in this graduation,'' Nicholas said. ``Their presence will do nothing but create problems that this board does not need. There's no constitutional right to attend graduation.''

After the students were expelled, Jackson and members of his Rainbow/PUSH Coalition protested to get them enrolled in an alternative school. The two seniors and four other students completed the school year.

The families of the two seniors invited Jackson and Rainbow/PUSH leaders to tonight's graduation.

``We are involved in so many struggles for change ... that every now and then we want to celebrate a victory,'' Jackson said before today's ruling. ``We have a right to be there and we plan to exercise that right.''

Hendrian granted a school board request in March to banish Jackson and others involved in last fall's protests from coming within 50 feet of the city's high schools without permission. The school refuses to grant such permission in this case.

Jackson faces criminal charges for last fall's protests and is out on a $10,000 bond. One condition of bond is that he not go on school grounds.

``If he violates that, he's going to jail,'' Police Commander Richard Ryan said.

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On the Net:

Rainbow/PUSH Coalition: http://www.rainbowpush.org

Decatur School Board: http://www.dps61.org/keil/board.html
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