Monday, August 4, 2008

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ATTORNEY GENERAL ABBOTT TAKES ACTION TO UPHOLD ‘ MOMENT OF SILENCE’ STATUTE

DALLAS – Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott defended the right of Texas schoolchildren to begin each school day with the Pledge of Allegiance followed by a minute of silence to “reflect, pray, [or] meditate” before class. In a brief filed Friday with the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit, Attorney General Abbott argued that Texas’ moment of silence statute is entirely constitutional. In January, a federal district judge rejected a North Texas couple’s challenge to the law. Solicitor General James Ho will appear before the appeals court on behalf of the state.

Media links
Moment of Silence brief

“The United States Constitution plainly protects young Texans’ right to observe a moment of silence before school each morning,” Attorney General Abbott said. “In an age where children are bombarded with distractions, beginning each school day with a moment of silence offers a welcome moment of thoughtful contemplation. The state of Texas will work diligently to defend the law and uphold the district court’s decision, which ruled that Texas’ moment of silence statute is entirely constitutional.”

The case, David Wallace Croft and Shannon Kristine Croft v. Governor of the State of Texas, Rick Perry, was appealed by the plaintiffs after Judge Barbara Lynn ruled against the couple. The Crofts’ children are students in the Carrollton-Farmers Branch Independent School District. On Friday, the court granted Attorney General Abbott’s motion to dismiss the school district from the appeal.

In 2003, the Texas Legislature revised the moment of silence law, providing for the recitation of the pledge before the minute of silence and making clear that students may “pray” during this time. Legislators also amended the law to allow “any other silent activity that is not likely to interfere with or distract another student.”

Under Texas law, the minute of silence immediately follows the Pledge of Allegiance. As the state’s brief notes, “by providing a patriotic and contemplative context for the minute of silence, Senate Bill 83 plainly serves secular rather than religious purposes.” The state also asserts, “the purpose of these exercises is plain – to foster patriotism and provide an opportunity for students to engage in thoughtful contemplation.”

Solicitor General Ho added: “The plaintiffs’ argument turns the First Amendment on its head. Their reasoning would condemn any law that prevents discrimination against religion by expressly protecting the right of students to ‘pray’ – including numerous federal and state laws that protect students against religious hostility.”