On The Left The Manhattan Mercury

Printed November 30th:

Time to pray, think or dream

The U.S. Supreme Court was right in 1963 to prohibit organized classroom prayer.

And justices were right in 1980 when they ruled that posting the Ten Commandments in public school classrooms violated the U.S. Constitution.

More recently, justices also were right in banning prayers led by clergy at events such as public high school graduations and in banning prayers led by students at public high school football games.

All of those decisions involved the imposition of state religion, and justices wisely deemed the efforts - some more blatant than others - unconstitutional.

Justices were right again this week when they let stand a Virginia law that allows - in fact, requires - a moment of silence for public school children during which students can pray if they want to.

The Supreme Court didnít issue an opinion on the case; rather, justices simply and without comment refused to hear an appeal on the Virginia law that mandates a moment of silence at the beginning of the school day.

The law, which according to its preamble is intended to ensure the free expression of religion in schools, nevertheless says that prayer is among activities students can choose during the brief daily silence. That falls well short of requiring prayer. As advocates of the Virginia law point out, students in that stateís public schools also are free to spend that moment meditating, reviewing their multiplication tables or daydreaming.

That was enough to differentiate Virginiaís law - which the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Richmond, Va., had upheld - from an Alabama statute that the Supreme Court in 1985 did rule unconstitutional. Alabama lawmakers had made clear that their purpose in legislating a moment of silence was to return prayer to public schools.

In refusing to take up the Virginia case, the justices effectively reaffirmed the line long since drawn between the Constitutional right all Americans have to worship - or not worship - as they please and the Constitutionís prohibition of state religion.