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
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
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)
to the American Voice Institute of Public Policy Home Page