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Atheist Family in Texas Challenging Neutrality of a 'Moment Of Silence'

By Nikki Weingartner     Oct 1, 2008 in World
The neutrality of a mandatory Texas law that requires all students take a minute of silence every morning to reflect, meditate, pray or engage in whatever silent activity they wish is under attack. This time, its round 2 by a family of Atheists.
Created to allow all individuals an opportunity to do what it is they want to do, quietly, during that mandatory "one minute" time frame following the Pledge of Allegiance, the 2003 legislature is once again under attack for what is said to be a waste of time.
A family who lives in a suburb of Dallas, TX has filed an appeal to a lawsuit they actually filed but failed at victory back in January of this year. The judge presiding over the case found no evidence that the minute of silence, required in all Texas public schools, had any kind of religious foundation. As explained in the Austin Statesman:
The first challenge to the Texas law by David Croft and his wife, Shannon, failed in January when U.S. District Judge Barbara Lynn found a nonreligious purpose for the quiet time, though she said that she had to hunt for it.
"The Texas Legislature was less than clear in articulating the secular purpose of the Texas moment of silence law," Lynn ruled.
Still, Lynn was reassured by legislative debate that indicated the silent time is meant to make schools "more reflective and more reverent," prepare students for the "seriousness of the day" and create "a common moment of preparation, deliberation and meditation."
Just over a quarter of the states in the United States have laws establishing a moment of silence in schools. In Texas, the law was initially passed in 1995 and allowed schools to decide whether or not they wanted to implement a moment of silence. The law was amended in 2003 to make it mandatory for all grade levels during morning time. The amendment also added wording including "reflect, meditate or engage in any other non-disruptive silent activity" and included prayer as an option for those who wished to pray.
That being said, a student receiving a public education in Texas must remain silent for one minute during this mandatory time period and can choose to do just about anything they wish as long as it is silent, including non-religious activities. They can meditate, stare at the wall, roll their eyes, pick boogers and of course, pray if they choose.
The family appealed the court's ruling to the 5th US Circuit Court of Appeals, where the case is currently pending. David Croft, an Atheist and who has three children that go to Texas public schools, was quoted in the Statesman as saying "It's clear if you watch the video and read the transcripts of the legislative debates that the main purpose of this law is to create school-sponsored silent prayer, and that with a wink and a nod they're just sort of calling it a moment of silence."
Texas Attorney General Gregg Abbott said in a brief that the word "prayer" does not invalidate the law and that " The Supreme Court noted that states may 'protect every student's right to engage in voluntary prayer during an appropriate moment of silence during the school day.' " Abbott believes this would cause First Amendment issues for those wanting to pray in school.
Still, the original judge's ruling wasn't based upon religion, but rather on "reflection".
The family is also said to be challenging a 2007 law that added "one state under God" to the Texas pledge.
This should be an interesting case and one that will serve to disrupt a relatively benign practice where many take a moment of silence following their allegiance to the flags. And based upon the argument of a perceived "wink and a nod", I wonder if the case will be taken seriously in that is appears to be one's perception of what they see as a waste of time rather than something that is actually used to fulfill a school-sanctioned religious act.
Remember, public school is an option.
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