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A federal appeals court on Monday (March 16) upheld a Texas law that requires public school students to observe a daily minute of silence following the Pledge of Allegiance.
“The statute is facially neutral between religious and nonreligious activities that students can choose to engage in during the moment of silence,” a three-judge panel of the New Orleans-based 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals wrote.
The judges quoted a decision by former U.S. Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor that said “It is difficult to discern a serious threat to religious liberty from a room of silent, thoughtful schoolchildren.”
The Texas ordinance, which took effect in September 2003, says students can use the minute to “reflect, pray, meditate, or engage in any other silent activity that is not likely to interfere with or distract another student.”
David and Shannon Croft of Dallas sued Texas Gov. Rick Perry on behalf of their three children after an elementary school teacher told one of their children to remain quiet because the minute is “a time for prayer,” according to the Associated Press.
The Crofts said the moment of silence “causes harm” to their children and is an unconstitutional way for the government to further religion. Another family joined the lawsuit but wished to remain anonymous.
The court used a standard three-point legal test to examine the law’s secular purpose, primary effect and whether it caused excessive entanglement with religion before affirming that it was constitutional.
“None of the courts examining moment-of-silence statutes have found that the primary effect has been to advance or inhibit religion, and the Crofts point to no case law that supports their contentions,” the appeals panel wrote.
Religious freedom groups welcomed the decision.
“A moment of silence is not a government endorsement of religion just because someone might use the time for prayer,” said David Cortman, senior legal counsel of the Alliance Defense Fund. “No student is compelled to pray under the Texas law. The 5th Circuit was right to uphold the district court’s determination that the law is not an establishment of religion.”
By Karin Hamilton
Religion News Service
Copyright 2009 Religion News Service. All rights reserved. No part of this transmission may be distributed or reproduced without written permission.

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