Washington, Dec. 11--The Supreme Court sent a message on religious freedom yesterday, allowing student-led prayers in Florida and letting a Jewish inmate sue prison officials for forcing him to cut his beard.

In the prayer case, a lower court ruled it was constitutional for students in Jacksonville to lead inspirational "messages" at public-school graduation ceremonies. A public-interest group sued, claiming the "messages" were really prayers and crossed the line that separates church and state. But the Supreme Court refused to hear the challenge, effectively allowing the prayers to continue.

In the beard decision, the high court effectively ruled that Hasidic inmate Hbrandon Lee Flagner could sue the state of Ohio for twice forcing him to cut his beard and sideburns against his religious beliefs. Ohio prison officials said their grooming rules are intended to control contraband and prison gangs, and predict Flagner's lawsuit will lead to a flood of similar lawsuits brought by prison inmates who claim their religious beliefs were violated. Flagner, a convicted murderer, became a Hasidic Jew while in prison.

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