- The Washington Times - Saturday, September 1, 2001

Virginia's law requiring public-school students to observe a daily minute of silence violates the separation of church and state and should be blocked by the Supreme Court, opponents argued yesterday.
The high court should step in immediately, preventing the law from being enforced in the new school year, opponents said in an emergency court filing.
"Having suffered this clear violation of their First Amendment rights for over one year, Virginia's public-school children should not be compelled to suffer another year or another day," the Supreme Court filing said.
The law approved last year requires schools to open the day with a minute devoted to meditation, personal reflection, prayer or any other silent activity. Supporters of the law say it is constitutional because students may choose how to spend the silent time.
The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) sued on behalf of seven students and their parents, saying the law amounts to government promotion, or "establishment," of religion.
"We have felt all along that a careful review of the facts of this case would result in the law being struck down as unconstitutional," said Kent Willis, executive director of the state ACLU. "Although the lower courts did not side with us, we have a great deal of confidence that the U.S. Supreme Court will."
Chief Justice William H. Rehnquist asked Virginia Gov. James S. Gilmore III to respond by Sept 7.
Opponents also asked the Supreme Court to accept a broader appeal for the court term that begins in October. The group is appealing a July decision of the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, in which a divided three-judge panel found the silence law constitutional.
"Because the state imposes no substantive requirement during the silence, it is not religiously coercive," Judge Paul Niemeyer wrote in the appeals court's majority opinion.
The ruling upheld a lower court's opinion that listing prayer among the students' options does not amount to government establishment of religion. In a dissenting opinion, Judge Robert King said the law erodes the separation between church and state.
In its appeal, the ACLU said the appeals court ruling cannot be reconciled with a previous Supreme Court case, which struck down a similar moment-of-silence law in Alabama. In that case, the high court found that the state was placing an official imprimatur on classroom prayer.
"From the beginning, we expected this important case to end up before the Supreme Court," said Stuart H. Newberger, attorney for the opponent group. "The issue, as it now stands, is legally intolerable."
Randy Davis, a spokesman for the Virginia Attorney General's Office, said the office had no comment yesterday, but would respond to both appeals.


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