Brown v. Gilmore, 533 U.S. 1301 (2001)

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on application for injunction

No. 01A194 (01-384). Decided September 12, 2001

The application of Virginia public school students and their parents for an injunction against enforcement of a Virginia statute requiring public schools to observe a "minute of silence" each schoolday, pending this Court's disposition of their petition for certiorari, is denied. Applicants, who claim that the statute establishes religion in violation of the First Amendment, have been unsuccessful in their repeated attempts to obtain injunctive relief from both the District Court and the Court of Appeals and in their attack on the statute's merits. The All Writs Act, this Court's only authority to issue an injunction against enforcement of a presumptively valid state statute, is appropriate only if the legal rights at issue are indisputably clear, Ohio Citizens for Responsible Energy, Inc. v. NRC, 479 U. S. 1312, 1313, which is not the case here. Finding that Virginia's statute has a clear secular purpose—namely, to provide a moment for quiet reflection in the wake of instances of violence in the public schools—the Court of Appeals distinguished the present case from Wallace v. Jaffree, 472 U. S. 38, in which this Court struck down a similar Alabama statute that was conceded to have the purpose of returning prayer to the public schools. At the very least, the lower court's finding places some doubt on the question whether Virginia's statute establishes religion in violation of the First Amendment. Justice Powell stayed a District Court order dissolving a preliminary injunction in Wallace when the plaintiffs there alleged that teachers led their classes in prayer daily. Here, by contrast, after more than a year in operation, the minute of silence seems to have meant just that. Also, that applicants did not make an immediate application to a Justice in September 2000, after the Court of Appeals denied their request for an injunction pending appeal, is somewhat inconsistent with the urgency they now assert.


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