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
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
"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
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
"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
"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
Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott also praised the
"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
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
Liberty Legal Institute, a Plano-based legal
organization that protects religious freedoms and
First Amendment rights, called the court ruling a
"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
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
"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."
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
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
"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."