Monday, March 16, 2009

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Federal Appeals Court Upholds Texas Moment of Silence Law

AUSTIN – The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit today upheld Texas’ Moment of Silence law. As the state’s lawyer, Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott defended young Texans’ right to begin each school day with the Pledge of Allegiance and a moment of silence. The Attorney General maintained that the 2003 statute is constitutional. Last month, Solicitor General James Ho appeared before the Fifth Circuit to defend the law during oral argument.

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. Today’s Fifth Circuit decision affirmed the lower court’s ruling and once again rejected the plaintiffs’ legal challenge.

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Fifth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals' opinion

“The United States Constitution plainly protects young Texans’ right to observe a moment of silence before school each morning,” Attorney General Abbott said. “Today’s Fifth Circuit decision once again affirmed the moment of silence law’s constitutionality. 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.”

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 Attorney General argued 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.”

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 ruling. Last month, a federal district court in Illinois struck down that state’s moment of silence law.