ACLU of VA Urges School Officials to Drop Plans For "Moment of Silence" and Posting of Prayer
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
RICHMOND, VA — In a letter sent to county officials today, the American Civil Liberties Union of Virginia warned that a proposal to institute a “silent prayer” session and post the Lord’s Prayer at county schools would violate the First Amendment’s mandate of separation of church and state.
The ACLU sent its letter one day after the school board directed the school superintendent to develop plans to implement the two policies, despite opposition from their own attorney.
In the letter, ACLU Executive Director Kent Willis urged Appomattox County School Board Chairman Lannis Selz to reverse his opinion on the policies and to urge others on the school board to do the same.
“The principle of separation of church and state allows individuals and families to choose their religious preferences without interference or influence from the government, and it is the reason that religious freedom thrives in our nation,” Willis wrote. “I hope you will honor this important principle by withdrawing your support.”
Willis reminded Selz that the Supreme Court has ruled against the posting of the Ten Commandments in public schools because it unconstitutionally promotes religion.
“Certainly,” he said, “if posting of the Ten Commandments violates the Constitution, then posting the Lord’s Prayer does as well.” The letter also notes that the Supreme Court has struck down “moment-of-silence” policies adopted primarily for religious purposes.
Adoption of the policies as proposed would prompt swift legal action, the ACLU warned. “If these polices are adopted by the Appomattox School Board as proposed, I can assure you that the ACLU of Virginia will take whatever legal action is appropriate to prevent their implementation,” the letter said.
August 26, 1999
Lannis Selz, Chair
Appomattox School Board
Route 1, Box 920
Spout Spring, VA 24593
Dear Mr. Selz:
I am writing to address your intentions to post the Lord’s Prayer in Appomattox County Public Schools and to require students to engage in a moment of silence for religious purposes. Because both proposals violate the First Amendment’s mandate for separation of church and state, I urge you not to adopt them as policies of the school board.
The Virginia statute that authorizes a moment of silence in public schools may not violate the Constitution because its purpose may not be religious. However, the U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that it is unconstitutional to adopt any law or policy that requires or enables a moment of silence primarily for the purpose of praying or other religious endeavors.
Because it is clear from statements made at the last week’s school board meeting that the intent of your proposed moment of silence policy is religious, it is unconstitutional.
The Supreme Court has ruled that the posting of the Ten Commandments in public schools promotes religion and is therefore unconstitutional. Certainly, if posting of the Ten Commandments violates the Constitution, then posting the Lord’s Prayer does as well.
Over the last two centuries, our nation’s highest courts have concluded that religion is best protected when government maintains neutrality toward it, taking no action either to promote or to hinder it. This principle of separation of church and state allows individuals and families to choose their religious preferences without interference or influence from the government, and it is the reason that religious freedom thrives in our nation. I hope you will honor this important principle by withdrawing your support for the aforementioned policies and asking other members of the school board to so the same.
If these policies are adopted by the Appomattox School Board as proposed, I can assure you that the ACLU of Virginia will take whatever legal action is appropriate to prevent their implementation.
I thank you for your attention.
Executive Director, ACLU of Virginia
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