Court Turns Down Appeal in Case on Silent Prayer in Schools

A U.S. Appeals Court ruling that struck down a New Jersey law requiring a minute of silence in public schools for “private contemplation and introspection” remains in effect, because the Supreme Court decided Tuesday not to deal with the case on technical grounds.

The 8-0 decision on the case of Karcher vs. May, written by Justice Sandra O’Connor, said that Alan Karcher, former speaker of the New Jersey State Assembly, and Carmen Orechio, former president of the state Senate, could not appeal the lower court decision, because they no longer held the leadership posts in the legislature.

Mark Pelavin, Washington representative of the American Jewish Congress, one of several Jewish organizations that filed briefs in support of the lower court ruling, welcomed the court decision.

“We are very pleased by the result in this case, although the opinion dealt only with the technical issues of leaving intact a favorable lower court ruling,” Pelavin said.

LAST CASE WAS IN 1985

He noted the only time the Supreme Court has ruled on silent prayer was in 1985 when it declared unconstitutional an Alabama law providing for a minute of silence for “meditation and voluntary prayer.”

The New Jersey law was adopted in December 1982 when the legislature overrode a veto by Gov. Thomas Kean. Jeffrey May, a school teacher, along with several parents and students, filed a suit the following January challenging the constitutionality of the law.

When neither Kean nor his attorney general would defend the suit, Karcher and Orechio, decided to defend it in their capacities as leaders of the legislature. But when the Court of Appeals handed down its decision, both had lost their leadership jobs, and their successors asked that their names, which had been substituted on the appeal to the Supreme Court, be withdrawn.

Karcher and Orechio then filed an appeal and argued they could do so since they were still members of the legislature.

While silent prayer appears now to be ruled out, the decision may come up before the Supreme Court again because about half of the states have “minute of silence” laws.

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