School Silence in Line with First Amendment

October 31, 2000

Source: The Washington Post

On October 31, 2000, The Washington Post reported that "a federal judge in Alexandria ruled yesterday that Virginia's controversial law requiring public school students to observe a daily minute of silence does not violate the First Amendment separation of church and state. The American Civil Liberties Union, which brought the suit on behalf of several students, vowed immediately to appeal, setting up a battle that could head to the U.S. Supreme Court. The ACLU had argued that the law was a veiled attempt to force students into prayer in school. Chief U.S. District Judge Claude M. Hilton wrote that the Virginia law ‘was enacted for a secular purpose, does not advance or inhibit religion, nor is there excessive tanglement with religion.'

"'Students may think as they wish--and this thinking can be purely religious in nature or purely secular in nature,' Hilton wrote. 'All that is required is that they sit silently. Nothing and no one is favored in the act.' Yesterday's decision maintains the status quo in the state's public schools, which have been observing the law since it went into effect in July. The law, which requires students to observe one minute of silence, says that 'each pupil may, in the exercise of his or her individual choice, meditate, pray, or engage in any other silent activity.'"