VA Minute of Silence: 'Phenomenal' to Some, Unconstitutional to Others

July 7, 2008 - 8:02 PM

(CNSNews.com) - Most public school students in Virginia had their first experience Tuesday with a new law requiring a minute of silence at the beginning of each school day. Officials in several of the state's school districts reported no major problems, despite the ongoing controversy over the law's constitutionality.

In Virginia's most heavily populated county of Fairfax, three students, who are among those suing the state over the issue, "stepped into the hallway and stood quietly" during the minute of silence, according to Kitty Porterfield, spokesperson for Fairfax County public schools.

Otherwise, Porterfield said, "It was quite phenomenal to hear this quiet you never hear in a school just settle over the building. I don't think it hurt anybody."

At Loudoun County's Potomac Falls High School, Jordan Kupersmith, another student plaintiff in the lawsuit filed by the American Civil Liberties Union, stepped out into the hallway during the minute of silence. According to Wayde Biard, public information officer for Loudoun County schools, Kupersmith was the only student out of more than 30,000 in the county who objected to the new policy.

"Our business is education. This is the law. We're obeying the law. And the vast majority of our students have no problem with the law, apparently," Byard said.

In the city of Alexandria, teachers were prepped by the superintendent's office about the required conduct of students and teachers during the minute of silence.

A memo distributed to all teachers read: "...during such one minute of silence, teachers shall take care that the peoples remain seated and silent and make no distracting display. Each people may engage in any silent activity that does not interfere with, distract or impede others. The teacher of each classroom shall not influence the student's use of the one minute of silence."

The ACLU, in its lawsuit on behalf of eight students, charged that the "minute of silence" violated the students' First Amendment rights because the law includes the word "pray." In fact, the Virginia law states that during the minute of silence, students may, in the exercise of his or her individual choice, meditate, pray, or engage in any other silent activity."

Stuart Newberger, the attorney representing the eight students, said last week, "Virginia, like every other state, cannot get into the prayer business."

However, in rejecting the ACLU's request for a temporary injunction against the law, U.S. District Court Judge Claude Hilton last week said, "there's nothing to fear from a classroom of silent, thoughtful children."

The "minute of silence" law actually took effect in Virginia July 1st but is only now having a practical effect with the start of the new school year. The ACLU's lawsuit is scheduled to be heard in federal court in Alexandria Friday.

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