Tuesday, February 3, 2009

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Texas Solicitor General Defends Moment of Silence Law

NEW ORLEANS – Texas Solicitor General James Ho appeared today before the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit, where he defended young Texans’ right to begin each school day with the Pledge of Allegiance and a moment of silence. Under a 2003 law, Texas schools begin each morning with a minute of silence for students to “reflect, pray, meditate, or engage in any other silent activity.” A North Texas couple filed a lawsuit challenging the law, but that challenge was rejected by a federal district court. The couple appealed their loss to Fifth Circuit.

“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 quiet contemplation. The Solicitor General’s argument before the Fifth Circuit clearly articulated that the district court correctly rejected the plaintiffs’ argument and upheld Texas’ moment of silence law.”

In 2003, the Texas Legislature revised the moment of silence law to provide for the recitation of the state and federal pledges of allegiance before the minute of silence. The law permits students to, among other protected activities, “pray” during this quiet time, or engage in “any other silent activity that is not likely to interfere with or distract another student.”

Defending the moment of silence law, the state’s brief argues that, “by providing a patriotic and contemplative context for the minute of silence, Senate Bill 83 plainly serves secular rather than religious purposes.” The brief also said: “the purpose of these exercises is plain – to foster patriotism and provide an opportunity for students to engage in thoughtful contemplation.”

Solicitor General Ho said: "Texas law simply provides students with a quiet minute of contemplation at the start of each school day. Allowing students to make a personal, private decision about their use of that time is entirely constitutional. In fact, the concept of a moment of silence originates with Justice William Brennan, who suggested that schools adopt 'a moment of reverent silence at the opening of class' in his concurring opinion in Abington School District v. Schempp (1963)."

In January 2008, a federal district judge rejected a North Texas couple’s claim that the law was unconstitutional. Today’s Fifth Circuit argument stems from the plaintiffs’ appeal of the district court’s adverse ruling. Last month, a federal district court in Illinois struck down that State’s moment of silence law.