updated 4/26/2004 4:30:13 PM ET 2004-04-26T20:30:13

The Supreme Court said Monday it will not consider reinstating mealtime prayers at a state-funded military college, turning aside an appeal from Virginia officials who wanted to preserve the tradition.

Justice Antonin Scalia blasted his colleagues for refusing to hear the case, arguing that it raised important church-state questions. Leaving those issues unresolved is unfair to Virginia Military Institute, Scalia wrote in a dissent joined by fellow conservative Chief Justice William H. Rehnquist.

The three most liberal justices then wrote their own explanation for why the high court should stay out of the case.

A lower federal court had found VMI’s mealtime prayers violate the Constitution, and the high court’s action means that ruling will stand.

VMI, part of the state university system in Virginia, lost a previous Supreme Court battle over its all-male admissions policy. The high court forced VMI to admit women in 1996, as Scalia noted dryly in his dissent Monday.

“VMI has previously seen another of its traditions abolished by this court,” he wrote. “This time, however, its cause has been ignored rather than rejected — though the consequences will be just the same.”

Justice John Paul Stevens said although the case raised important issues, it has significant procedural and other problems.

It takes the votes of four justices to agree to hear an appeal. The written, back-and-forth comments released Monday shows that, at most, Scalia and Rehnquist collected just one additional vote to hear the case.

The justices in the court’s ideological middle, Justices Sandra Day O’Connor and Anthony M. Kennedy, did not reveal whether or why they did not want to hear the case.

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