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As Fayette board weighs ‘moment of silence,’ 1984 ruling recalled

BECKLEY, W.Va. — With a policy that would require Fayette County students to observe a moment of silence during the school day now out on a 20-day comment period, residents may recall a 1984 West Virginia Constitutional Amendment mandating “voluntary contemplation” that was struck down in federal court.

The state amendment passed overwhelmingly with 511,057 votes for, and 145,835 against.

The amendment stated: “Public schools shall provide a designated brief time at the beginning of each school day for any student desiring to exercise their right to personal and private contemplation, meditation or prayer.”

U.S. District Judge Elizabeth V. Hallanan ruled the amendment unconstitutional on March 14, 1985, in federal court in Beckley.

In the summary of evidence, the court documents the testimony of an 11-year-old Jewish student who chose to read a book during the designated time.

According to the student’s testimony, several students discussed his faith and one asked why he was reading.

“I told him that I didn’t have to pray then and I didn’t want to and then he told me that I should be praying all the time and then he said something to the effect that if I prayed all the time, maybe I could go to heaven with all the Christians when Jesus came for the second time instead of, as he put it, going down with all the other Jews,” said the boy, according to court transcripts.

A Baptist preacher who testified said he felt a dedicated moment “trivializes one’s devotion…

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