Virginia House Passes Silence In School Bill

July 7, 2008 - 8:02 PM

(CNSNews.com) - The Virginia House of Delegates overwhelmingly passed a bill requiring a minute of silence each school day in public schools. It would require "every classroom to set aside a minute during which students could mediate, pray or engage in any other silent activity which does not interfere with, distract or impede other pupils."

The bill was sponsored by Virginia State Senator Warren Barry, a Republican from Fairfax County in Northern Virginia. Barry told CNSNews.com that the bill is defensible.

"I've worked hand-in-hand with the (Virginia) Attorney General (Mark Earley) on this. He feels very comfortable that he could defend a case against this in court," Barry told CNSNews.com.

In a statement released from his Richmond office, Earley said, "There are local jurisdictions in Virginia that have not established a moment of silence, fearing that it would result in a costly lawsuit from a group like the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU). No child should be denied this moment of silence and the change to exercise individual choice based upon the fear of litigation."

Barry, meanwhile, told CNSNews.com, "The growing violence in our schools and the frustrations of what we could do about it..." prompted him to introduce the legislation.

"Of course, a big solution would be to give guns to teachers, but that's not realistic," Barry said. "Of course, based on Supreme Court rulings, we can't put God back in schools, and I'm not on a religious crusade, but I felt the one thing kids have today is the lack of opportunity to really think in this day and age of technology.

"Their day is totally consumed with computers, video games, boom boxes, etc. I think this will give them an opportunity for introspection in terms of who they are, what they're doing and where they're going in life," Barry told CNSNews.com.

A spokesperson for Virginia Governor Jim Gilmore told CNSNews.com on Tuesday that the Governor will sign the bill once it reaches his desk.

"It puts Virginia on record as saying, in a small way, we're taking a nibble at the problem of violence in schools. It may not do any good, but it's certainly not going to do any harm," Barry told CNSNews.com.

The American Civil Liberties Union does not like the bill but hasn't decided yet whether it will challenge the bill in court.

"It (the bill) ended up being not quite as bad as it could have been but not as good as it should have been," Kent Willis, executive director of the ACLU Virginia chapter told CNSNews.com.

Willis also told CNSNews.com that the ACLU is waiting to see how effective the bill would be if enacted into law before deciding what action, if any, to take against it.

"Well, we don't like it. The law is probably constitutional as it is written. But what we suspect will happen is that many school districts in Virginia will be adopting policies that are not constitutional.

"What the law does is require each individual school district in Virginia to adopt a minute of silence policy, so, what we are likely to see is literally somewhere between 130 and 140 different minute of silence policies in Virginia. In some situations, those policies will probably be constitutional while, in many case, they will not be," Willis told CNSNews.com.

The ACLU is still trying to decide whether or not to challenge the bill in court.

"Virginia's law is somewhat cleverly written. The law specifically says that each school district will adopt a policy toward a minute of silence. It then says that schoolteachers must, during the minute of silence, maintain order in the classroom, and then it says they (teachers) must maintain order in the classroom so that students may meditate, pray or reflect.

"It is that word 'pray' in there that concerns us the most, but it is in a very attenuated circumstance in this particular law. We will very soon be making an evaluation as to whether or not we believe this law can be challenged on its face in court. We understand that that could be, given the state of the law, a very difficult challenge, but is still one we might possibly do," Willis told CNSNews.com.