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Prayer in School Debate: How Are Moments of Silence Covered Under Law?

Image: Prayer in School Debate: How Are Moments of Silence Covered Under Law?
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By    |   Sunday, 30 Nov 2014 01:07 PM

The issue of prayer in school continues to be hotly debated and litigated. Since the 1962 U.S. Supreme Court ruling in Engel v. Vitale found school-led prayer to be unconstitutional, some have turned to alternatives to prayer, such as a moment of silence. Moment of silence laws have faced scrutiny and legal challenges of their own.

Generally, the moment of silence in schools is allowed by law as long as it is genuinely neutral.

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A 1985 U.S. Supreme Court ruling in Wallace V. Jaffree found that an Alabama law allowing public schools to start each day with a moment "for meditation or voluntary prayer" was unconstitutional. The court found that the intent of the law was to promote religion in part because the preamble to the law said its purpose was to circumvent the ban on school prayer, according to ReligiousTolerance.org.

A new moment of silence law was passed in Alabama in 2001.

In Virginia, a moment of silence law drew a court challenge from the American Civil Liberties Union. A U.S. District Court ruled that the new law doesn’t advance or inhibit religion and is constitutional.

The Georgia Moment of Quiet Reflection in Schools Act allows for a quiet moment for silent prayer or meditation at the beginning of each school day. A Gwinnett County School District teacher challenged the law in 1997. A U.S. Circuit Court ruled in Bown v. Gwinnett County School District that the law is constitutional, finding that the law is clearly secular, doesn’t advance or inhibit religion, and doesn’t create an excessive government entanglement with religion.

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When Louisiana removed the word “silent” from its school prayer law, a U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals found the change unconstitutional in its 2001 ruling in Doe v. School Board of Ouachita Parish.

Advocates of the moment of silence include former secretary of state Colin Powell and Rabbi Yisrael Rice. Rice wrote about the value of silence for Chabad.org.

"We can empower our children with 'nothing,'" he wrote. "A moment at the beginning of their day that could give context and meaning to the hours that follow."

Others oppose the idea of the moment of silence.

“Moment of silence legislation is at best a thinly veiled attempt to reintroduce state-sanctioned prayer into its schools,” Dawn Reitan-Brockman wrote in an article called “A Moment of Silence: The Trojan Horse of Our Age.”

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The issue of prayer in school continues to be hotly debated and litigated. Since the 1962 U.S. Supreme Court ruling in Engel v. Vitale found school-led prayer to be unconstitutional, some have turned to alternatives to prayer, such as a moment of silence.
prayer, in, school, moment of silence, law
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2014-07-30
Sunday, 30 Nov 2014 01:07 PM
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