Federal appeals court refuses to block Virginia's minute of silence law

Posted: Friday, September 15, 2000

RICHMOND, Va. (AP) -- Public school students across Virginia are observing a mandatory minute of silence each day, after a panel of the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals voted 2-1 not to block a new state law. A few students are protesting by walking out of class during the daily observance.

The law, which took effect July 1, requires all school districts to hold a minute of silence for students to meditate, pray or engage in any other silent activity. A previous law from 24 years ago gave schools the option of holding a minute of silence and listed prayer as an option.

Meanwhile, a lower federal judge heard arguments on a legal challenge from the state unit of the American Civil Liberties Union.

In the hearing, ACLU attorney Stuart Newburger said ''once the state put the word 'pray' or 'prayer' in the statute, that's enough to show the state was favoring prayer as a practice.''

Solicitor General William Hurd argued that Virginia's law has a secular purpose, ensuring that there is no discrimination against prayer, and only listed prayer so students know it is one option among many.

''Prayer is not a dirty word. It's a fact of life. There's no reason to be squeamish about it,'' he said.

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