Religious Lawsuit At Columbine

Friends and relatives of victims in the Columbine High School massacre have sued the school district for refusing to display hallway tiles they made with religious symbols.

The Rutherford Institute, a conservative legal group, filed a federal lawsuit against the district Monday on behalf of several people who want a court order forcing the school to display the tiles.

"The premise is that this is a violation of our clients' First Amendment free speech rights," said Jim Rouse, an attorney with the Virginia-based institute which also represented Paula Jones in her sexual harassment case against President Clinton.

School district spokeswoman Marilyn Saltzman declined to comment, saying officials had not yet seen the lawsuit.

The plaintiffs were among those who were invited to paint commemorative 4-by-4-inch tiles that later were placed above lockers at the school before it reopened this fall.

The lawsuit claims school officials initially said the tiles could not depict religious symbols, then changed their minds and allowed them, only to change their minds again and remove the tiles with religious material.

The plaintiffs are Diedra and Donald Fleming, whose daughter, Kelly, was killed; Lisa Maurer, a friend of slain student Daniel Rohrbaugh; and Rohrbaugh's father, mother, stepfather and stepsister.

Relatives of a Columbine shooting victim cut down a tree to protest the inclusion of the gunmen's families in a previous memorial ceremony.

Since the April 20 massacre, disputes also have arisen over whether trees for the two gunmen should be included in a memorial garden for the victims, and whether one of the slain students said she believed in God just before being killed.

Also, the parents of another slain student asked Attorney General Janet Reno for a federal investigation of their son's killing.

Vonda and Michael Shoels presented a letter to Reno in Denver saying they believe Isaiah Shoels was the victim of a hate crime conspiracy.

Students said they heard one of the gunmen yell "there's a nigger over here" after spotting Isaiah Shoels hiding under a table. The gunman shot the black senior in the head.

The Shoels family also filed court papers defending their right to hire Michigan attorney Geoffrey Fieger, who has defended Dr. Jack Kevorkian, to sue the gunmen's parents, who had objected to Fieger's hiring.