The Alabama prayer case began May 28, 1982, when Ishmael Jaffree, an agnostic, filed suit in federal court in Alabama on behalf of his children, charging teachers in the Mobile County schools were leading their classes in prayer.
After the suit was filed, the Alabama legislature changed the moment of silence law to allow teachers to lead students in actual prayer and Jaffree altered his suit to include the state laws.
U.S. District Judge W. Brevard Hand rewrote years of legislative and judicial history and stirred a nationwide furor when he ruled January 1983 that the Supreme Court had erred in consistently finding school prayer unconstitutional.
'The Founding Fathers of this country (never intended) to erect an absolute wall of separation between the federal government and religion,' Hand wrote.
However, the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Atlanta ruled Alabama's prayer laws unconstitutionally advanced religion.
'We do not imply that simple meditation or silence is barred from the public schools; we hold that the state cannot participate in the advancement of religious activities through any guise, including teacher-led meditation,' the court noted.
State officials appealed to the Supreme Court, which let stand the appeals court ruling on the school prayer section of the law, but decided to hear the moment of silence for prayer part of the case.
According to court documents, the following states have laws that mention 'meditation or silent prayer' in public schools: Alabama, Arkansas, Delaware, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Indiana, Kansas, Louisiana, Massachusetts, Nevada, New Mexico, North Dakota, Pennsylvania, Tennesee and Virginia.
These states have 'meditation' statutes: Alabama (whose original statute did not mention prayer), Arizona, Connecticut, Maine, Maryland, Michigan, Ohio, New Jersey, New York and Rhode Island.