Virginia school district considers Lord's Prayer,
moment of silence
By Jeremy Leaming
First Amendment Center
At the suggestion of a local evangelist and his
supporters, a Virginia public school board has asked the superintendent
to require district schools to post the Lord's Prayer and institute a daily
moment of silence.
In early August, the Appomattox County School
Board instructed the superintendent of the four-school district not far
from Lynchburg to create policies requiring schools to post the Lord's
Prayer in classrooms and open each day with a moment of silence.
The school board's request was prompted after
the Rev. Jerry Childress, a Christian fundamentalist, and 175 of his followers
spoke to the board. Childress told the school board that "When they took
prayer out of the school, they took God out of school" and "let Satan in."
The state affiliate of the American Civil Liberties
Union said it would "take whatever legal action is appropriate" to prevent
government-sponsored religious activity in the schools.
In a letter sent last week to Lannis Selz, chairman
of the Appomattox School Board, the ACLU said it would be unconstitutional
for the district to post the Lord's Prayer and to require students "to
engage in a moment of silence for religious reasons."
"Over the last two centuries, our nation's highest
courts have concluded that religion is best protected when government maintains
neutrality toward it, taking no action either to promote or hinder it,"
wrote Kent Willis, executive director of the ACLU of Virginia. "This principle
of separation of church and state allows individuals and families to choose
their religious preferences without interference or influence from the
government, and it is the reason that religious freedom thrives in our
Although Virginia has a law similar to those in
at least 24 other states permitting school districts to impose a moment
of silence at the start of school days, Willis said that if the moment
of silence were adopted to encourage religious practice, then it would
be susceptible to constitutional challenge.
In 1985, the U.S. Supreme Court struck down an
Alabama law that authorized schools to start each day with a moment "for
meditation or voluntary prayer." By a 6-3 vote, the high court said the
Alabama Legislature's sole purpose in enacting the statute was to promote
religion. Justice John Paul Stevens, writing for the majority, cited several
statements from legislative records that revealed a desire to sponsor prayer
in the state's public schools
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