The 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals has upheld a 2000 Virginia law mandating a moment of silence for public school students to "meditate, pray or engage in other silent activity."

Conservatives hailed the decision. "I'm heartened by it," says Gary Bauer, former undersecretary of education in the Reagan administration and former Republican presidential hopeful. "It's too bad that only a moment-of-silence law can pass court muster. Nevertheless, it's a helpful step in the right direction." Critics, including the American Civil Liberties Union, say the law—by mentioning the word "prayer"—is a backdoor attempt to establish religion.

But Miriam Moore, legal policy analyst for the Family Research Council, disagrees. "This is really a model of government neutrality toward religion," Moore told Christianity Today. "Informing students of a right they possess under the Constitution does not violate the Constitution."

Brown v. Gilmore was the first prayer case to reach the federal level since a U.S. Supreme Court ruling last year invalidated student-led prayer at high school football games.

The ACLU, which challenged Virginia's law, is likely to appeal the ruling to the Supreme Court, observers say.

Moore says this ruling follows the Supreme Court's Wallace v. Jaffree decision (1985), which struck down a moment of silence motivated by an unconstitutional purpose but acknowledged "every student's right to engage in voluntary prayer during an appropriate moment of silence."

"We're fairly certain the ACLU will appeal this to the U.S. Supreme Court, and we welcome that," Moore says. "This case will give the court a chance to restate what it said in 1985, and, hopefully, litigation on this issue will end."

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