'Silence' Policy Upheld Pending Trial

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A New Jersey judge has ruled that the Woodbury school district may continue its 22-year-old policy of starting each school day with a moment of silence "for contemplation" pending a trial on that case and decisions in two related federal-court cases.

Superior Court Judge Edward Miller ruled late last month that both the New Jersey Department of Education and the Woodbury board of education must conduct a "discovery" process to clarify the reasons they think the practice is constitutional or unconstitutional, according to Barbara Lapham, Judge Miller's law clerk.

State education officials in August asked Judge Miller to force the district to discontinue its moment-of-silence policy, citing last year's federal district court ruling in May v. Cooperman. In that case, Judge Dickinson R. Debevoise declared the moment-of-silence law an unconstitutional attempt to circumvent the U.S. Supreme Court's ban on state-sanctioned prayer in public schools. (See Education Week, Nov. 2, 1983.)

The case has been appealed by the New Jersey legislature and is scheduled to be presented to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Cir-cuit in Philadelphia this month.

The Woodbury school board voted on Aug. 22 to retain its policy, despite Judge Debevoise's ruling. The board asked the state for permission to continue the observance until the U.S. Supreme Court decides Wallace v. Jaffree, a case concerning the constitutionality of an Alabama moment-of-silence law. That case is expected to be heard by the Justices in the current term.

Refused Injunction

Judge Miller, in his Sept. 25 ruling in the case--Cooperman v. Board of Education of the City of Woodbury--refused to issue an injunction against Woodbury's moment-of-silence policy pending trial of the case.

At that time, he noted, both higher courts will have addressed the moment-of-silence issue. "He made it quite clear that he's not prejudging the case in any way," Ms. Lapham said.

"Since they were both scheduled for argument [soon], he doesn't want to second-guess either the Third Circuit or the Supreme Court on the issue, so he's going to wait until they've at least argued before he proceeds," she added.--ab

Vol. 04, Issue 06

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