RICHMOND, Va. (AP) - A law requiring Virginia public school students to open the day with a minute of silence is constitutional, a divided federal appeals court ruled Tuesday.
In a 2-1 decision, the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals panel rejected the American Civil Liberties Union's argument that the law is an unconstitutional attempt to reintroduce prayer in public schools.
``Because the state imposes no substantive requirement during the silence, it is not religiously coercive,'' Judge Paul Niemeyer wrote in the majority opinion.
The ruling upheld a lower court's opinion that listing prayer among the students' options does not amount to government establishment of religion. In a dissenting opinion, Judge Robert King said the law erodes the separation between church and state.
The law approved last year requires schools to open the day with a minute devoted to meditation, personal reflection, prayer or any other silent activity. The ACLU filed the lawsuit on behalf of several students and their parents.
``While this is a disappointing decision, it contains a strong, well-articulated dissent that could serve as a basis for requesting rehearing by the full court,'' said Kent Willis, executive director of the state ACLU. He said no decision has been made on whether to appeal.
``This is a victory for common sense,'' state Attorney General Randolph Beales said. ``If the ACLU appeals this decision to the U.S. Supreme Court, we will be there to defend the law yet again.''
On the Net: http://www.ca4.uscourts.gov
Copyright 2001 The Associated Press.