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Prayer in School Debate: 4 Cases Where Moment of Silence Solved Prayer Issue

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Whether laws related to prayer or moments of silence in schools violate the First Amendment? (Dreamstime.com)

By    |   Sunday, 30 Nov 2014 05:46 PM

The moment of silence has taken the place of prayer in school in some areas of the United States. While some consider the moment of silence to be a useful alternative to prayer in school, others characterize it as a back-door attempt or ploy to get prayer in school.

Courts use what is known as the Lemon test to determine whether laws related to prayer or moments of silence in schools violate the First Amendment. The test refers to the 1971 case Lemon v. Kurtzman, in which Chief Justice Warren Burger wrote that to be constitutional a statute must meet three requirements: 1) have "a secular legislative purpose," 2) neither advance nor inhibit religion, and 3) it must not foster "an excessive government entanglement with religion."

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In its 1985 ruling in Wallace v. Jaffree, the U.S. Supreme Court struck down an Alabama moment-of-silence law because sponsors of the law said its purpose was to return prayer to school. While the ruling struck down the Alabama law, it also cleared the way for lower courts to uphold moment-of-silence laws provided the secular intent was clear.

Here are four cases when moment-of-silence laws have been upheld.

Sherman v. Koch (Illinois)
In 2010, a federal appeals court in Chicago upheld an Illinois law that requires a moment of "silent prayer or silent reflection" in public schools. The law was upheld because its doesn’t require the time to be spent in prayer and because it has a practical purpose in settling down students.

Croft v. Perry (Texas)
In 2009, a federal court upheld a moment-of-silence law in Texas. U.S. District Judge Barbara M.G. Lynn wrote that “the Court finds legitimate the secular purpose of allowing all types of thoughtful contemplation,” according to Americans United for Separation of Church and State.

Brown v. Gilmore (Virginia)
In 2001, a federal appeals court upheld a moment-of-silence law in Virginia, which requires schools to begin each day with a minute that allows students to meditate, pray or engage in any other silent activity. The court found that "By providing this moment of silence, the state makes no endorsement of religion."

Bown v. Gwinnett County School District (Georgia)
In 1997, a federal court upheld the Georgia Moment of Quiet Reflection in Schools Act, which allows for a quiet moment for silent prayer or meditation at the beginning of each school day. The court determined that the law satisfies all three prongs of the Lemon test.

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The moment of silence has taken the place of prayer in school in some areas of the United States. While some consider the moment of silence to be a useful alternative to prayer in school, others characterize it as a back-door attempt or ploy to get prayer in school.
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2014-46-30
Sunday, 30 Nov 2014 05:46 PM
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