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Powell Stays Ala. School Prayer Law

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Washington--U.S. Supreme Court Justice Lewis F. Powell Jr. last week ordered that prayer in Alabama schools be stopped until a federal court challenge against the practice is resolved.

Justice Powell issued a one-paragraph order that stayed a Jan. 14 decision by Judge W. Brevard Hand--a federal district court judge in Mobile--upholding the state's two school-prayer laws.

In his ruling, Judge Hand said the Supreme Court was wrong to ban school prayer from schools.

Justice Powell's order also reinstated a previous injunction that stopped school prayer in the state pending outcome of the case.

The Justice responded to an application for a stay and injunction filed with the Court by a lawyer for Ishmael Jaffree.

Mr. Jaffree is a Mobile lawyer who brought suit against the prayer laws on behalf of his three school-age children. He is appealing Judge Hand's decision in the Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit in Atlanta, a court that falls under Justice Powell's jurisdiction.

Mr. Jaffree contends that the practice constitutes state establishment of religion.

Alabama has a law allowing a "period of silence" for meditation or voluntary prayer, and another law containing a "suggested prayer" written by the son of former Gov. Forrest H. (Fob) James Jr., who worked actively for school prayer during his administration.

In his opinion, Judge Hand said, the Supreme Court "erred in its reading of history" when it struck down school prayer in 1962.

He said that the framers of the First Amendment did not intend the Establishment Clause to "erect an absolute wall of separation between the federal government and religion."

He also said that the framers of the Constitution only wanted to bar the federal government, and not the states, from establishing religion.

Both Judge Hand and the appeals court had refused to stay the ruling pending the outcome of the appeal, thus allowing classroom prayer to resume.--ah

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