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Wallace v. Jaffree

Court Strikes Down "minute Of Silence" Law As Impermissible State Sponsorship Of Religion

Writing for the Court, however, Justice Stevens made it immediately clear that the Alabama law, which was intended from its inception to reintroduce prayer into the schools, would not pass constitutional muster. The district court's conclusion that there was no constitutional barrier to state-sponsored religion was, he wrote, "remarkable." Stevens first rehearsed the history of the Establishment Clause. Then, applying the Court's latest test for deciding Establishment Clause questions, developed in Lemon v. Kurtzman (1971), he concluded that the Alabama statute lacked the necessary "secular purpose."

Stevens's opinion did, however, leave one small opening. If the Alabama legislature had simply left matters where they stood in 1978, he hinted, the outcome might have been different:

The legislative intent to return prayer to the public schools is, of course, quite different from merely protecting every student's right to engage in voluntary prayer during an appropriate moment of silence during the school day. The 1978 statute already protected that right, containing nothing that prevented any student from engaging in voluntary prayer during a silent minute of meditation.
The separate concurring opinions of Justices Powell and O'Connor emphasized the point that some "moment of silence" statutes might in fact be constitutional.

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Law Library - American Law and Legal InformationNotable Trials and Court Cases - 1981 to 1988Wallace v. Jaffree - Significance, Court Strikes Down "minute Of Silence" Law As Impermissible State Sponsorship Of Religion