Rehnquist rejects call to halt Virginia's minute-of-silence law
By The Associated Press
|Chief Justice William H. Rehnquist
WASHINGTON The Supreme Court's chief justice refused yesterday to stop Virginia from requiring students to start their day with a minute of silence.
The court may still consider a constitutional challenge of the practice.
"There is no allegation that Virginia schoolteachers have used the minute of silence, or any other occasion, to lead students in collective prayer," wrote Chief Justice William H. Rehnquist.
A divided three-judge panel of the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled in July in Brown v. Gilmore that the state could require its 1.1 million public school students to spend a minute in meditation, personal reflection, prayer or any other silent activity.
The American Civil Liberties Union sued on behalf of a group of Virginia students and parents after the Legislature mandated the minute of silence last year.
Rebecca Glenberg, an attorney for the ACLU in Virginia, said the organization has received reports of teachers encouraging prayer and "that could be the subject of future challenges."
The ACLU wanted Rehnquist to stop the law from being enforced this fall while its appeal was pending. The group contends the law is an effort to force students to pray and is similar to an Alabama statute that the Supreme Court struck down in 1985 Wallace v. Jaffree.
Rehnquist said the appeals court "found ample evidence that ... (the Virginia law) has a clear secular purpose, namely, to provide a moment for quiet reflection in the wake of high-profile instances of violence in our public schools." He said the Alabama statute was solely about prayer.
Virginia Attorney General Randolph A. Beales had told the court last week that students were only required to sit silently during that minute, and "there is nothing to fear from a classroom of silent, thoughtful children."
Beales said in a statement that yesterday's decision was "a victory for common sense and Virginia's schoolchildren."
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