Washington — The US Supreme Court has sidestepped the issue of whether a public school's setting aside of a daily moment of silence violates First Amendment protections. In a much-awaited ruling in a New Jersey case, the justices refused to decide the merits of the arguments but unanimously rejected the issue on procedural grounds. This action leaves intact an appellate court ruling that struck down New Jersey's moment-of-silence law as constitutionally impermissible.
Also unresolved is the validity of similar laws in other states which, like New Jersey's statute, provide for periods of student meditation but don't specify that the time be used for prayer or religious devotion.
The issue of school prayer is a main plank of the Reagan administration's social agenda. In 1985 the Supreme Court reaffirmed its longstanding opposition to public school prayer in an Alabama case. It left open, however, the possibility that moment-of-silence laws - those that do not spell out advocacy of prayer - could pass constitutional muster.
Associate Justice Sandra Day O'Connor, writing for the court, said that former New Jersey legislative officers who had pressed the appeal no longer had legal standing to do so.
The former officers' appeal ``presents the question whether public officials who have participated in a lawsuit solely in their official capacities may appeal an adverse judgment after they have left office,'' Justice O'Connor explained. ``We hold that they may not,'' she ruled.
Israel stages mock raid in Lebanon; 3 wounded
Israeli warplanes staged a mock air raid on Palestinian refugee camps in south Lebanon yesterday, scaring residents waiting for a strike in revenge for the killing of six Israelis last week, police said. The raid missed the planes but wounded three children in a playground in this port city, which is south of Beirut, police reported.
Key Afghan rebel leader rejects peace talk offer
The chairman of the main Afghan rebel alliance, Yunus Khalis, yesterday rejected President Najibullah's latest offer of peace talks out of hand, saying the alliance viewed Dr. Najibullah ``as a Russian soldier.''
Pakistani premier says supporters won elections
Prime Minister Mohammed Khan Junejo said yesterday that supporters of his Pakistan Muslim League had won a majority of Monday's local elections, which the opposition said were rigged. Mr. Junejo said, however, that results would be clearer when candidates were elected to rural district and village councils, and urban municipal bodies selected their chairmen.
9 opposition leaders freed in Bangladesh
Bangladesh freed nine opposition leaders Monday and Tuesday following a peace overture by President Hussain Muhammad Ershad aimed at ending the country's political crisis. Most had been arrested after General Ershad ordered a crackdown last month on dissidents demanding his resignation.
Two terrorists suspected in fatal Korean jet crash
A South Korean airliner carrying more than 100 people was probably blown up by a bomb, and two suspected Japanese terrorists who swallowed poison pills yesterday may have planted it, a Japanese official said. The two got off the flight in Abu Dhabi Sunday, hours before the plane disappeared. During subsequent interrogation in Bahrain they took suicide capsules hidden in their cigarettes. One died, the other was reported in serious condition.
Bank intervention stems US stock market decline
Intervention by several central banks temporarily stanched the dollar's slide yesterday, and the stock market partly recovered, pushing the Dow Jones industrial average up 22.22 points to 1,855.77 by midafternoon. (Dollar falls against yen, Page 9.)
Economic indicators slipped 0.2 in October
Record stock market losses during October pushed the government's key index of leading indicators down a surprisingly slight 0.2 percent during October, the Commerce Department said yesterday. Analysts said that removing the effect of falling share prices, which lost an estimated 12 percent of their value in October, meant that the overall index rose from September, when it was unchanged.
Air Force begins burning chemically polluted soil
The Air Force has started burning 15,000 tons of dioxin-contaminated soil at the Naval Construction Battalion Center here. The highly toxic chemical leaked into the soil from more than 17,000 barrels of the defoliant Agent Orange which were stored at the base.
Maj. Terry Stoddart, the Air Force's project manager, said air quality will be tested continuously while the soil is decontaminated.
James Baldwin, black novelist
James Baldwin, who died yesterday in the south of France, was the author of ``Go Tell It on the Mountain'' and other novels portraying black life in America. The son of a Baptist minister, the fiery writer dedicated his life to the struggle for racial equality in the US, a theme that dominated his works.
Ortega gets contra plan for truce
President Ortega said Monday his government had received cease-fire proposals from US-backed contra rebels as both sides planned for a first round of peace talks in the Dominican Republic. Mr. Ortega said the rebel document presented by a church mediator, Miguel Cardinal Obando y Bravo, came in response to an 11-point cease-fire plan issued by Nicaragua in Washington earlier this month, but he declined to give details.
The rebels' counterproposal calls for a nationwide truce starting Dec. 8 (and ending Jan. 17) in exchange for disbanding the Sandinista Army, restoration of full civil rights, and agreement that contras be allowed to remain in territories where they claim to operate - about 46 percent of the country.
Ortega, whose own plan calls for confining the rebels to three demilitarized zones during a 30-day truce that would start Dec. 5, said he would study the proposal before commenting on it.
For the record
McDonnell Douglas, Boeing, General Electric, and Rocketdyne have been chosen by NASA to negotiate space station construction contracts that may be worth up to $6.5 billion, the agency said yesterday. The Indian government yesterday filed criminal charges against the Union Carbide Corporation for the Bhopal gas leak.
Iraq granted amnesty to all citizens living abroad who were convicted or suspected of political or criminal offenses, the information minister said yesterday.