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."

Related Elsewhere

The full text of the Brown v. Gilmore decision is available in HTML (plain text) and PDF (Adobe Acrobat) formats.

Virginia schools may also have a mandatory pledge of allegiancein addition to the moment of silence.

The Washington Posthas extensively covered the moment of silence law. Its news articles include:

Va. minute of silence in schools is upheld (July 25, 2001)

Court hears challenge to silent minute law (May 9, 2001)

Judge hears debate on school law (Sep. 9, 2000)

Few Va. students opt to walk away from moment of silence (Sep. 6, 2000)

Injunction denied on school silence (Sep. 1, 2000)

Loudoun student pays for protest (Aug. 30, 2000)

Minute of silence starts (Aug. 29, 2000)

Subdued start for minute of silence (Jul. 4, 2000)

Schools get new advice on prayer (Jun. 17, 2000)

Don't raise prayer issue, schools told (Jun. 14, 2000)

Speaking out on the minute of silence (Mar. 21, 2000)

Minute of silence passes Va. house (Mar. 7, 2000)

Community reflects on silence bill (Feb. 6, 2000)

Students voice doubts about school silence (Feb. 3, 2000)

Va. Senate approves a minute of silence (Feb. 2, 2000)

Opinion pieces in the Postinclude

Pray tell, why the fuss? — William Raspberry (Aug. 17, 2001)

Judges embrace a silent tread on freedoms — Marc Fisher (July 26, 2001)

In silence, our kids don't have a prayer — Michael Wilbon (Aug 31, 2000)

The Christian Science Monitorasked what kids think aboutthe moment of silence and what they think about during it. lists the argumentsfor and against the moment of silence, and offers links to further study.

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