Religious Liberty
An American Heritage

Minute of Silence Upheld in Virginia

Virginia can continue to require public school students to observe a daily minute of silence in classrooms according to a ruling by a federal judge in Alexandria on October 30, 2000.

Arguing that the state violated the Constitution's separation of church and state clause by including the option of prayer during the silence, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) challenged the law on behalf of nine students.

However, agreeing with Virginia's argument that the purpose of the law is secular and does not promote religion as a favored practice was U.S. District Judge Claude M. Hilton.

Judge Hilton wrote, "The court finds that the Commonwealth's daily observance of one minute of silence act is constitutional, the act was enacted for a secular purpose does not advance or inhibit religion, nor is there excessive entanglement with religion."

Kent Willis, executive director of the ACLU Virginia Chapter said his organization plans to appeal the ruling of the Fourth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Richmond. "It's a disappointing opinion because we felt there was a strong legislative history showing that this [law], from the beginning to the end, was about promoting prayer in school."

In his 15-page opinion, Judge Hilton expressed total agreement with Virginia Attorney General Mark L. Earley's arguments that rebuts the ACLU's arguments.

At the beginning of this school year, some schools were not sure how to handle students that did not want to participate. In Loudoun County, Jordan Kupersmith, one of the plaintiffs, received detention for walking out of his classroom without permission.

Schools have made other arrangements for Kupersmith and other students who have walked out since then, but as students become used to it, the issue has faded into the background.

Judge Hilton wrote, "The momentary silence neither advances nor inhibits religion. Students may think as they wish — and this thinking can be purely religious in nature or purely secular in nature. All that is required is that they sit silently."

However, for next year's legislative session, Delegate L. Karen Darner, (Democrat-Arlington) has already filed a counteractive bill.

The "Moment of Silence" bill's original sponsor, State Senator Warren E. Barry (Republican-Fairfax), said he has observed some classrooms as they implement the new law. "It seems that it's part of the daily curriculum now, and it's working well. But, of course, today was simply one of the battles. The war's not over."

(Stephen Dinan, "Virginia's minute of silence is upheld," The Washington Times, October 31, 2000)