Local student prayer leader speaks out against ACLU lawsuit

GATE CITY : Schools in Southwest Virginia will be getting under way in less than three weeks and a national organization is objecting to one of the students' new daily requirements.

The Virginia chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union has filed suit against the state in federal court over a new state law that was passed in this year's session of the Virginia General Assembly that requires one minute of silence before the school day begins.

The Virginia ACLU is filing the suit on behalf of seven Northern Virginia students, who feel the "moment of silence" is in violation of the separation of church and state.

Mike Jenkins, who operates a nationwide youth ministry in Gate City and is the organizer of Scott County's Fellowship of Christian Athletes, says the ACLU lawsuit is another attempt to force its ways over personal choice. "During that minute of silence at the beginning of the school day, a student can pray to whomever they want, or they can use that time to reflect," Jenkins said.

"That should not try to deny those students who are Christians the right to pray. I am totally for the law 100 percent and it is not just adults who are in favor of this. Young adults want this privilege. "Anything we can do to get prayer back in school we should encourage, with all of the shooting and other disruptions our young people are having to deal with these days. Jesus Christ is the answer and taking that away would discriminate against Christians."

Senate Bill 209 was passed in March and Delegate Clarence E. "Bud" Phillips, D-Sandy Ridge, said during the General Assembly session that the minute of silence law was a "common ground" centerpiece in Virginia's diverse religious landscape.

Virginia Attorney General Mark Earley has recently entered his opinion into the case, asking the federal court to dismiss the ACLU case.

"In an era which has seen an increase in school violence, it's unfortunate the ACLU is discouraging students from exercising a moment of silence at the beginning of each school day," Earley said in a June 22 statement. The Gate City High Fellowship of Christian Athletes organization already has a voluntary prayer service in the school's gym before the beginning of the school day.

Jenkins says that will continue in the coming school year and that the other two high schools in the county, Rye Cove and Twin Springs, will also follow suit. However, Jenkins is not clear on how a U.S. Supreme Court decision that prohibits student-led prayers at sporting events will affect the proceedings at Gate City High football games, where prayer has been performed by a FCA member for several years.

"I'm really not sure how that will pan out. Mr. (Mike) Brickey, who is the school's principal, will have to make the final decision on that because he is the one who has made decisions on such matters as this in the past," Jenkins said. "There will be prayer in the locker room before the game and on the field after the game, but I am hopeful that we can have prayer with the crowd in some form this year."

2000 Times-News.
Published July 29, 2000


Court upholds Virginia's `moment of silence'

Christian Century, Nov 15, 2000: A federal court has affirmed the constitutionality of a Virginia law requiring public school students to observe a minute of silence in class each day.

In a 15-page opinion, U.S. District Judge Claude M. Hilton rejected the American Civil Liberties Union's contention that the law violated the constitutional separation of church and state because it allowed for prayer during the moment of silence. Virginia insisted that the four-month-old law has a secular purpose and does not favor religion.

The court agreed, saying "the momentary silence neither advances nor inhibits religion." Judge Hilton went on to say: "Students may think as they wish--and this thinking can be purely religious in nature or purely secular in nature. All that is required is that they sit silently."

The ACLU plans to appeal the ruling. "It's a disappointing opinion because we felt there was a strong legislative history showing that this [law], from the beginning to the end, was about promoting prayer in school," Kent Willis, executive director of the organization's Virginia chapter, told the Washington Times.

COPYRIGHT 2000 The Christian Century Foundation