States News Roundup
New Jersey public-school students would be offered a minute of silence at the beginning of each school day under legislation passed by the state's Senate last week.
The bill, passed by a vote of 30 to 5, originated in the state Assembly, where it was approved last May. It calls for the one-minute period to be used for "quiet and private contemplation or introspection."
As of last week, however, it was unclear whether Gov. Thomas H. Kean would sign the legislation.
"The bill is being reviewed carefully for its constitutionality by our counsel's office," said Paul Walcott, a spokesman for the Governor.
A series of court decisons beginning in 1962 has found that any form of organized prayer in schools is unconstitutional.
The New Jersey School Boards Association has said the bill is unnecessary and possibly unconstitutional. And the American Civil Liberties Union opposes it.
"Some of the comments made during the Senate debate in support of the bill were absolutely ridiculous," said Marianne Rhodes, associate director of governmental relations for the school-boards association."Some [senators] were saying that the bill would bring faith in our creator back to the schools."
The Virginia chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union will soon file at least one lawsuit, and possibly two, challenging Bible-education courses in public schools in the state.
Judy Goldberg, associate director of the Virginia aclu, said that the organization will definitely file a suit against the Bristol school district, and "possibly one in Shenandoah County."
"We have noticed a marked increase over the past 12 months in
complaints about things ranging from straightforward praying to
religious instruction during school on school time," Ms. Goldberg said.
"We've been getting two or three complaints a month," she added. "We
used to get two or three a year."
The aclu and the Anti-Defamation League of B'nai B'rith have jointly published a Church-State Handbook that "gives guidance to teachers and administrators on past church-state rulings."
A federal district court judge from Wyoming has ruled that the Utah State Board of Education must pay two-thirds of the total $44,000 in legal fees and court costs that accumulated during a long-running lawsuit by the Utah American Civil Liberties Union against a local Utah school district.
Judge Clarence Brimmer was called in to hear the case because all the federal judges in Utah are Mormons.
Because the suit involved a district that allowed Mormon religious education on school time, the aclu attorney requested another judge.
The case began in 1977, when the aclu objected to the practice of releasing children in the Logan, Utah, school district for one hour each day to attend Mormon religious programs, which were held in buildings adjacent to the school but owned by the Mormon church. The civil-liberties group also objected to the practice of granting public-school credit for these classes.
The plaintiffs said the practice violated the First Amendment's prohibition of state establishment of religion, said Kathryn Collard, an attorney who tried the case for the aclu
Judge Brimmer was called in to hear the case after a Utah federal judge, Aldon Anderson, who is a Mormon, agreed to step aside. The Wyoming judge ruled in favor of the aclu in 1979, and a federal appeals court in Denver upheld the ruling in 1981.
Judge Brimmer said because the board's rules on credits for sectarian courses are not clear, it is responsible for the situation that gave rise to the suit, and hence must pay.
The Logan district must pay one-third of the costs.
In a decision issued late last month, the Hawaii Supreme Court upheld the state department of education's authority to license religiously affiliated schools, rejecting the argument that the requirement infringed on the schools' religious freedom.
In its unanimous decision, the court ruled that the state licensing requirement was constitutional and that the department of education could shut down schools that do not comply with the law.
The lawsuit was filed by three Christian fundamentalist schools, according to a spokesman for the state department of education. Only one of the schools had not complied with the law and was consequently denied a license.
The unlicensed school has since halted operation.
Under state law, private schools are required to submit information on teacher certification, curriculum, and facilities to the state agency.
Vol. 02, Issue 08