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Bill for moment of silence advances in Oklahoma legislature

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) _ Oklahoma schools will be required to offer a minute of silence each day for prayer or reflection under a bill given overwhelming approval in the state Senate on Tuesday.

Senate Bill 815, by Sen. Jeff Rabon, D-Hugo, requires a minute of silence each day to allow each student to ``reflect, meditate, pray or engage in other silent activity.''

Some critics have called the bill an attempt to get around the U.S. Supreme Court ban on mandatory prayer in schools. Others said it is unnecessary.

There was no debate on the measure in the Senate, which voted 36-4 to send the bill to the House for final consideration. A similar bill passed the House earlier, 99-0.

The bill had been stuck in a joint conference committee since April after Senate and House members disagreed on how the proposal should be worded.

The original Senate bill simply called for a moment of silence and did not mention prayer.

Rep. Russ Roach, D-Tulsa, amended the bill to include language from a Virginia law that included the word ``pray'' in the list of silent activities.

The Virginia language also required the American flag to be displayed in school buildings and mandates that students receive instruction ``in the history and etiquette of the flag.''

It authorizes students to recite the pledge of allegiance to the flag each day and allows school districts to display the national motto, ``In God We Trust,'' on school buildings.

Rabon said he had children in school and they, like other children, are in always in a rush to get to school and other activities.

Having a moment of silence, he said, ``maybe puts them in a better position to think and learn. Anyway, what does it hurt?''

Michael Camfield, spokesman for the ACLU chapter in Oklahoma, has criticized the government designating a time for prayer and said overzealous educators could wind up forcing student participation.

Oklahoma is among at least a dozen states that have considered moment-of-silence legislation this year.

The proposed laws were introduced in the aftermath of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks and the Supreme Court decision last October in the Virginia case.
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