Court Lets Virginia Law Stand from New Location

By Murray, Frank J. | The Washington Times (Washington, DC), October 30, 2001 | Go to article overview

Court Lets Virginia Law Stand from New Location


Murray, Frank J., The Washington Times (Washington, DC)


Byline: Frank J. Murray

The Supreme Court yesterday let stand the Virginia law giving schoolchildren a minute each day to pray or meditate. The action was its first in the borrowed courtroom where the justices must remain because an anthrax discovery extended the quarantine of their 66-year-old edifice.

Issued without comment as one line in an 18-page orders list, the Virginia decision ended the American Civil Liberties Union's challenge of a state law that permits students to choose how to use their "minute of silence" and specifically makes prayer an option.

"This is the first time this court has met outside our building since it opened in 1935," Chief Justice William H. Rehnquist declared to the packed ceremonial courtroom at the federal courthouse at 333 Constitution Ave., after high court Marshal Pamela Talkin called the session to order with the traditional cry, "God save the United States and this honorable court."

Even the government's top courtroom lawyer, Solicitor General Theodore Olson, had to submit to three metal-detector searches in order to clear unprecedented security measures.

Supreme Court officers and Justice Department lawyers rubbed elbows with reporters in the hallways. Only the justices enjoyed the privacy of a separate entrance.

One insider said the high court will likely use the ceremonial courtroom at the U.S. Court of Appeals for D.C. Circuit through tomorrow, resuming business at its home stand Monday.

Information officer Kathy Arberg would confirm only one day at a time, saying justices will use the D.C. Courthouse this morning to hear a challenge to the federal ban on computerized pornography depicting "virtual children."

She said decontamination and new testing are needed. Anthrax spores were found over the weekend in the court's basement mailroom after anthrax was confirmed in an air filter at the court mail-inspection facility in Prince George's County.

No court employee was reported to have contracted anthrax or tested positive. All nine justices were given doxycycline and an unknown number of the 400 court workers got precautionary medication. Workers actually exposed to anthrax will get a 60-day supply of medicine, Mrs. Arberg said.

In the "minute of silence" case, the ACLU argued that Virginia's law "was enacted specifically to facilitate and encourage school prayer at that fixed time," unconstitutionally sanctioning prayer.

"Parents should make the decisions about their children's religious upbringing, not politicians or school officials," added the Rev. Barry W. Lynn, executive director of Americans United for Separation of Church and State.

But state officials praised the court's refusal to hear the case, and conservative legal scholars predicted more laws like Virginia's nationwide.

"It guarantees Virginia's schoolchildren will continue to have a minute each day to reflect on their studies, to collect their thoughts, or, if they so choose, to bow their heads and pray," said Virginia Attorney General Randolph A. Beales.

"It will be no surprise if other states follow the lead of Virginia and adopt similar measures for their own school districts that meet the constitutional standards that exist in the Virginia law," said Jay Sekulow, counsel for the American Center for Law and Justice. …

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