- The Washington Times - Wednesday, September 6, 2000

A federal appeals court refused to halt Virginia's minute-of-silence law yesterday, just hours after 1 million students took part in the first complete observance of it.
School systems across Northern Virginia reported no problems, though a few students in Fairfax County walked out of classes in protest.
At Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology in Fairfax County which about half of the plaintiffs suing to overturn the law attend some students walked out in protest. But many others seemed surprised to find they enjoyed the minute and the calm it produced.
"It was kind of cool," said Ned Rice, marveling that the school came to a complete halt. "Everybody's normally in the halls, 24-7."
That the minute of silence would be observed on the first day of school was in doubt. On Thursday, a federal district judge in Alexandria refused to grant an injunction requested by the Virginia chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union, which is suing to overturn the law.
The ACLU appealed Friday, but yesterday a panel of the 4th Circuit Court of Appeals in Richmond upheld the district judge's ruling by a 2-1 vote.
The ruling means the law will remain in effect at least until Friday, when U.S. District Judge Claude M. Hilton holds a hearing on its constitutionality.
The law, which went into effect July 1, requires every public school to hold a minute of silence during which students may "meditate, pray or engage in any other silent activity." Previous state law allowed, but did not require, schools to hold a minute of silence.
The ACLU says that by including prayer as an option, the state has violated the First Amendment.
Despite yesterday's ruling, an ACLU leader sounded optimistic about Friday's hearing.
"We still think we have a good case that the facts are on our side, and the law is on our side," said Kent Willis, executive director of the Virginia ACLU.
Attorney General Mark L. Earley, who is charged with defending the law, was pleased with yesterday's ruling.
"There is nothing to fear from a classroom of silent, thoughtful children," Mr. Earley said in a statement.
Thoughtful is an apt description of Jefferson students' responses to the minute.
"I thought about what I was going to do about this boy I don't want to talk to," said Danielle Kuhn, 14.
Neither she nor her friend Megan Marsilii, 15, prayed, but both found the time useful.
An anonymous voice over the loudspeaker dubbed "Thomas" by the principal led students in the Pledge of Allegiance and then announced a minute of silence, which he timed to make sure it was exactly 60 seconds.
For the first 10 seconds, students still standing after the pledge bustled around or looked about, wondering what to do.
But then they quieted down and, for the next 20 or so seconds, many just glanced around at each other. In some classrooms, students remained standing, while in others the students all sat. Even those still in the hallways paused, and many bowed their heads.
For the final 30 seconds, most students had their eyes closed, and some had heads bowed. The entire school was silent.
Elana Newberger, a senior and daughter of Stuart H. Newberger, the lawyer coordinating the case for the ACLU, walked out of her class and stood in the hallway during the observance. She said she was the only student in her class to do so.
She and Katya Kruglak, a sophomore who also walked out during the observance, said nobody hassled them about their decision. They both told their teachers beforehand, and school officials had made it clear that respectfully walking out would be allowed.
Students said they had no idea how long 60 seconds was until they spent the minute silently.
Most students didn't seem to be praying, but they said they were happy for the chance to just collect their thoughts.
A gym teacher said he hadn't thought about how to handle the observance for students changing into their gym clothes in the locker rooms.
Jefferson's principal, Elizabeth Lodal, has said the front-office staff won't be answering the phone during the minute of silence.
Students believe the school eventually will settle into a routine with the observance.
Kunal Gullapalli, 16, said nobody would "bust out a [prayer] carpet or Ganesha, [a Hindu deity]" but he and other students thought everyone would continue to be respectful.

Copyright © 2019 The Washington Times, LLC. Click here for reprint permission.

The Washington Times Comment Policy

The Washington Times welcomes your comments on Spot.im, our third-party provider. Please read our Comment Policy before commenting.


Click to Read More and View Comments

Click to Hide