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Minute of silence upheld in 2-1 federal appeals vote

RICHMOND, Va. (BP)–A federal appeals court affirmed the constitutionality of Virginia’s daily schoolroom minute-of-silence law in a 2-1 vote July 25 in Richmond.

While the dissenting judge contended the law “establishes religion in the public schools of the Commonwealth,” the majority on the three-judge panel agreed with Virginia Solicitor General Bill Hurd’s argument that the requirement for a minute of silence is only that.

Prayer is only one of many silent, mental activities each student may choose, Hurd reasoned in arguments before the panel in May.

Stuart H. Newberger of Washington, a lawyer for the American Civil Liberties Union, which backed the students who are plaintiffs in the case, argued the wording of the law makes it clear the General Assembly intended to promote prayer in violation of the First Amendment

In its preamble, the law declares its purpose is to guarantee students “the free exercise of religion.” The statute, passed by the assembly last year, made mandatory an older law that authorized public schools to hold minutes of silence.

“This is a victory for common sense,” Attorney General Randolph A. Beales told the Richmond Times-Dispatch. “If the ACLU appeals this decision to the U.S. Supreme Court, we will be there to defend the law, yet again.”

The ACLU could also seek a rehearing before the full 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, but Kent Willis, executive director of the Virginia ACLU office, said no decision on appealing had been made yesterday.

“This is a disappointing decision, but it contains a very strong, well-articulated dissent that could possibly serve as the basis for requesting a [full court] hearing,” Willis told the Times-Dispatch.

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