Chicago Tribune February 22, 1994 New York Times News Service 'Moment of reflection' laws
February 22, 1994
New York Times News Service
'Moment of reflection' laws gain
School prayer advocates using federal court loophole
ATLANTA -- In the latest example of a slow but
unmistakeable return of prayer to public schools in the
South, Georgia's Senate has passed legislation that would
allow "a moment of quiet reflection" by students.
When the measure was approved on Feb. 14 by a vote of
51-2, the dissenters were two strongly conservative
lawmakers who argued that the bill did not go far enough --
that it should have flatly stated that the quiet moment was
for prayer. The legislation is expected to pass the Georgia
House in the next few weeks and be signed by Gov. Zell
State Sen. David Scott of Atlanta, who led the effort
on the bill, said he was motivated more by the chaos and
violence in some schools than by concern for the students'
souls. The moment of reflection is intended to let students
"look inward" and get "some things in order," he said.
Scott's motives notwithstanding, his legislation and
similar measures that nine other states have either enacted
or are considering are the latest push by religious
conservatives to re-establish prayer in tax-supported
These measures take advantage of court rulings in the
last two years that are applauded by the religious Right.
They appear to provide a loophole in the body of federal law
that followed a landmark 1962 Supreme Court ruling that
public prayers in public schools are unconstitutional.
Late last year groups such as the Christian Coalition
and Pat Robertson's American Center for Law and Justice
began urging students to initiate prayer at graduation
They argued that a 1992 ruling by the U.S. Court of
Appeals for the 5th Circuit, in New Orleans, made such
prayer legal when it was spontaneous, initiated and led by
students, and was non-sectarian and did not proselytize.
The Supreme Court subsequently refused to review that
Now legislatures are being urged to enact laws that
will allow such prayers, said Jay Sekulow, the director of
Robertson's conservative legal group. Yet Sekulow's group
disavows influencing the Georgia legislation, arguing, as
did the two senators, that the bill should have made
specific mention of prayer.
Alabama and Tennessee have already adopted laws that
rely on the premise that school prayer is legal if it meets
the 5th Circuit standards.
Eliott Mincberg, the legal director of People for the
American Way, which opposes organized prayer in public
schools, says the strategy inspired by the 5th Circuit's
ruling is "quite a trend and this whole issue has been quite
an organizing issue for the religious Right."
"It is going various ways, with them trying to phrase
it in non-threatening ways by calling it a moment of
reflection of insisting that it be non-sectarian, non-
proselytizing and student-initiated," he said. "It's all a
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