Chicago Tribune February 22, 1994 New York Times News Service 'Moment of reflection' laws

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Chicago Tribune 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 Miller. 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 schools. 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 ceremonies. 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 ruling. 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 Trojan horse."


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