- The Washington Times - Friday, May 17, 2002

COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) Just before taking a test, senior Katie Marco often says a short, silent prayer for success.

"It helps a lot, especially when I don't feel like there's anything more I can do to help myself, I leave it in the hands of God," said Miss Marco, a student at Cuyahoga Falls High School in northeast Ohio. "I make the time to do it."

Although the U.S. Supreme Court has outlawed mandatory school prayer, at least a dozen states this year have considered whether their public schools should offer students a moment of silence each day.

Ohio simply put into writing that the state allows one minute daily for students to reflect, meditate or pray and lets school districts decide whether to require that teachers set aside the silent time for students.

Lawmakers across the nation introduced most bills in the aftermath of September 11 and a U.S. Supreme Court decision last October that turned away a challenge to Virginia's law. The events helped sponsors of previously introduced bills in other states gain supporters.

"These bills were clearly something that was a popular first response to the crisis in our nation," said the Rev. Barry Lynn, executive director of Americans United for the Separation of Church and State. "And, after Virginia, we expected we'd see a slew of them."

Other patriotic and religious legislation has popped up in states nationwide since the terrorist attacks. Lawmakers in several states pushed legislation to post the motto "In God We Trust" in schools and make the Pledge of Allegiance mandatory.

Before last fall, nine states already had laws that required a daily silent minute in schools. Many modeled their laws after Virginia's, which makes the moment mandatory and lists prayer as an option.

The Supreme Court has outlawed mandatory school prayer, but courts have said states may require silent periods as long as students are not forced or encouraged to pray.

Critics argue that such laws still threaten the Constitution's separation of religion and government.

"When educators set aside a time for reflection, that's not just providing the opportunity, that's encouraging prayer," said Raymond Vasvari, legal director of the Ohio branch of the American Civil Liberties Union.

The sponsor of Ohio's bill said students became confused because they didn't know they were allowed to pray silently in school and weren't told they could do so even though elected leaders prayed publicly after the terrorist attacks.

"It's kind of sending a double-standard message," said Rep. Rex Damschroder, a Republican. "Every student across the state should have had that time to think about what happened to us."

Teachers in Ohio and other states already are allowed to set aside silent periods. Some say states should put the permission into law, to ease teachers' fears of violating state and federal constitutions.

Ohio lawmakers debated for seven months whether to include "pray" and require the silent period. Local-control advocates pushed to allow school boards to decide whether the moment should be mandatory.

Legislators in other states, including South Carolina, Pennsylvania, Iowa, Indiana, New Mexico, California, Illinois, Virginia, Louisiana and Missouri, have haggled over the same issues.

In Oklahoma, Rep. Russ Roach, a Democrat, said lawmakers can't agree on the wording in his bill, including whether "religion" and "prayer" should appear.

"I don't like mandating it," Mr. Roach said. "Unfortunately, a lot of our gung-ho members want just that."


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