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Church State Issues

Texas uses moment of silence to force God on school children????

Jan 5, 2010

http://www.dallasnews.com/sharedcontent/dws/news/localnews/stories/DN-silence_05\ met.ART0.North.Edition1.37cc71f.html

Texas schools' moment of silence upheld after Carrollton couple's challenge

Judge says law doesn't mandate prayer

08:46 AM CST on Saturday, January 5, 2008

By STEPHANIE SANDOVAL / The Dallas Morning News

ssandoval@dallasnews.com

A Carrollton couple's court challenge to Texas' requirement that schoolchildren observe a minute of silence has failed.

David and Shannon Croft had sued Gov. Rick Perry and the Carrollton-Farmers Branch school district, alleging that the law was unconstitutional and amounted to required prayer.

But U.S. District Judge Barbara M.G. Lynn in Dallas upheld the statute this week.

She said the law – amended in 2003 to add the word "pray" to "reflect" and "meditate" as options for students' use of the minute – does not promote an "excessive entanglement between government and religion."

"The Legislature amended the statute to provide a period of time for the full panoply of thoughtful contemplation," Judge Lynn said. "The primary effect of the amendment is not to advance or inhibit religion."

Dean Cook, attorney for the plaintiffs, said he was disappointed in the opinion but respects the judge.

"Whether we're going to appeal at this point, we're going to have to discuss that and see what we want to do," he said.

Meanwhile, he has another case pending in state district court, in which the Crofts have sued the governor over the addition of "one state, under God" to the pledge of allegiance to the Texas flag.

Ellen Johnson, president of American Atheists, said she wasn't surprised by the ruling. But she expects more challenges to similar statutes around the country.

"Secular students, atheist students, are not happy with this, and they're going to challenge it in every way possible," she said.

She said students who want to pray can do so by their locker or at their desk at any time, and there's no reason to stop the school day.

"Basically, what it is is a way to silence everyone else while those who want to pray can pray," she said. "Everyone knows what this is all about, and we pretend that it's not what it really is. It's really about starting the school day off with prayer."

Judge Lynn said in her ruling that there is no doubt that some legislators, including the bill's sponsor, Sen. Jeff Wentworth, R-San Antonio, had expressed a desire with the bill to put prayer back in schools.

But she said it was also clear that the Legislature intended to draft a constitutional law and that the addition of the word "pray" was not an endorsement of religion or prayer in the classroom. That finding is further supported by a catch-all provision that allows students to engage in any kind of silent activity or thought during that minute, she said.

Lisa Graybill, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Texas, said her organization was not involved in the case but had watched it closely.

"I think we might disagree with the outcome of the analysis had we been part of the case, but we were not," she said. But she said that the judge did a thorough job of reviewing the legislative history and the intent of the law.

"I think it's a really thorough opinion," she said.

Because the judge acknowledged that her decision was a "close" call, Ms. Graybill said, she is interested in seeing whether the plaintiffs will appeal.

And though the judge ruled that the law itself is constitutional, that won't prevent someone from filing a lawsuit alleging that a school's implementation of it is unconstitutional. An example of that might be if teachers or school administrators said the moment of silence was specifically for prayer.

The governor said in a written statement that justice was served in the ruling.

"I am proud that Texas' children will continue to be able to have a moment dedicated daily to their innermost thoughts and contemplations," Mr. Perry said.

Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott also praised the decision.

"Particularly in an age where children are so frequently confronted with violence and disorder, 60 seconds of quiet contemplation at the beginning of each day is not too much to ask," he said in a statement.

The Crofts have repeatedly failed to return phone calls from reporters. But over the years, Mr. Croft has fought several signs of religion at Rosemeade Elementary, which his children attended.

The family successfully asked that "Silent Night" be dropped from a holiday program and objected to an "In God We Trust" poster on the wall.

On his blog, Mr. Croft wrote that the minute of silence is a waste of educational time and has no secular purpose.

Liberty Legal Institute, a Plano-based legal organization that protects religious freedoms and First Amendment rights, called the court ruling a "great victory."

"The ultimate intolerance is someone attacking a moment of silence because they are worried others will decide to pray in their free time," chief counsel Kelly Shackelford said in a written statement. "This is a victory for everyone who believes in freedom."

The school district was dismissed from the lawsuit in August because the plaintiffs were challenging the constitutionality of the state statute, not the district's policy.

But Carrollton-Farmers Branch school officials expressed relief at the news Friday.

"Our perspective was this is primarily a state law," school board President John Tepper said. "As a district, we and our employees, teachers in particular, were just doing our best to comply with the state's requirements there. We're pleased they didn't find any problems on our part in that regard."

Schools superintendent Annette Griffin said that every morning, after the pledges of allegiance to the U.S. and state flags, each campus calls for a minute of silence. She said students are free to do what they want during that minute, as long as they are quiet and don't interfere with others' thoughts, contemplation or prayers.

"During that time, you can pray, you can not pray, you can pray to whoever you want to, or you can just be silent," Dr. Griffin said. "They can use that moment to think about whatever they want."

Source

Court Upholds Texas Moment of Silence

By APRIL CASTRO

AUSTIN, Texas (AP) — Texas schoolchildren will continue to pray or meditate during a daily minute of silence after a federal court threw out a challenge to the state law.

The ruling issued Thursday stems from a complaint by a North Texas couple who say one of their children was told by an elementary school teacher to keep quiet because the minute is a "time for prayer."

The complaint filed in 2006 by David and Shannon Croft names Gov. Rick Perry and the suburban Dallas school district the Crofts' three children attend.

The 2003 law allows children to "reflect, pray, meditate or engage in any other silent activities" for one minute at the beginning of each school day.

U.S. District Judge Barbara Lynn upheld the constitutionality of the law, concluding that "the primary effect of the statute is to institute a moment of silence, not to advance or inhibit religion."

Dean Cook, the Crofts' attorney, said he would read the opinion more closely and talk to the couple to decide whether to appeal.

"Obviously I'm disappointed with the opinion but I respect the judge and respect her opinion," he said. "Hopefully someday, even if it is not us, the Supreme Court will take this up and decide in our favor."

Perry said justice was served in the ruling. "Whether schoolchildren use their morning moment of silence to pray or to prepare for a pop quiz, tolerance and personal freedom are lessons that should be taught and exercised regardless of our environment," the governor said.

Lisa Graybill, legal director for the American Civil Liberties Union of Texas, said even though Lynn found the language of the law neutral on religion, "we know that that intent (to put prayer back in school) is manifest in school districts across the state. We receive those kinds of complaints on a constant basis."

"Judge Lynn clearly carefully examined the legislative history," Graybill said. "We disagree with the outcome, but the judge herself said it's a difficult and close question."