WASHINGTON, March 5 (AP) - A California high school valedictorian who was barred from giving a graduation speech in which he planned to ask the audience to ``accept God's love'' and live by ``Jesus' example'' lost a Supreme Court appeal Monday.

The court, without comment, turned down the former student's argument that public school district officials violated his rights by refusing to let him give a speech that a lower court described as a ``religious sermon.''

Last June the justices ruled that public schools cannot let students lead stadium crowds in prayer before football games. The ruling said allowing such prayers would violate the constitutionally required separation of government and religion.

In 1992 the justices barred clergy-led prayers - invocations and benedictions - at public school graduation ceremonies.

Chris Niemeyer was co-valedictorian of his graduating class at Oroville High School in June 1998. He submitted an advance copy of his speech to school officials, who told him he must tone down the religious references in it.

In the speech, he planned to ask the audience to ``pattern our lives after Jesus' example'' and to ``accept God's love and grace.'' The proposed speech also said, ``God seeks a personal relationship with each one of us ... Jesus wants to be our best friend.''

After Niemeyer refused to change the speech, he was not allowed to deliver it at the graduation.

He filed a civil-rights lawsuit seeking financial damages from school district officials.

A federal judge ruled against him, as did the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals last October.

The proposed speech was ``a religious sermon'' and allowing it as part of the graduation ceremony ``would amount to government sponsorship of, and coercion to participate in, particular religious practices,'' the appeals court said.

In the appeal acted on Monday, Niemeyer's lawyers said the appeals court's ruling ``runs directly counter to the Supreme Court's historic protection of preaching and religious invitations as fully protected First Amendment free speech activity.''

The school district's lawyers said the proposed speech was a ``religious testimonial'' and that to allow it would violate church-state separation. His co-valedictorian, who was Jewish, had raised objections to the speech, they added.

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