Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Be quiet, for God's sake!

Oh fer cryin' out loud.

Ain't there other more important things to worry about concerning education?

Maybe like stemming the tide of non-graduating students and drop-outs?

Or maybe even, **Gasp**, providing good teachers?

Nope, we have to spend money on ridiculous lawsuits and defending same.

State to defend schools' minute of silence as secular
Janet Elliott - Houston Chronicle

AUSTIN — A legal appeal over a 2003 Texas law mandating a moment of silence for schoolchildren is heating up.

The 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals is expected to hear the case this fall. Both sides have asked for oral arguments and advocacy groups on both sides are weighing in with friend-of-the-court briefs.

A North Texas couple is appealing the January ruling from a federal district court that upheld the law. U.S. District Judge Barbara M.G. Lynn said the law has a secular purpose of encouraging thoughtful contemplation and does not advance or inhibit religion.

Attorney General Greg Abbott said in a news release that the state would argue that the statute is constitutional. It requires schoolchildren to begin each school day with pledges of allegiance to the United States and Texas flags followed by a minute of silence to “reflect, pray, (or) meditate” before class.

Texas Solicitor General James Ho will argue the case, Abbott said.

The state's brief focuses on the fact that the minute of silence immediately follows the pledges. It notes, “by providing a patriotic and contemplative context for the minute of silence, Senate Bill 83 plainly serves secular rather than religious purposes.''

The brief says that “the purposes of these exercises is plain — to foster patriotism and provide an opportunity for students to engage in thoughtful contemplation.''
But the lawyer for the couple said the patriotism argument is “a cover for reinstituting organized prayer in schools.''

Dean Cook of Plano said the law that preceded the one being challenged allowed a moment of silence but didn't specifically mention using the time for prayer. His clients are David Wallace Croft and Shannon Kristine Croft, who have children in the Carrollton-Farmers Branch Independent School District.

“The argument that somehow they needed a new statute to encourage thoughtful contemplation among students is simply not true,'' Cook said.

Cook said that Judge Lynn rejected the state's arguments that the law was designed to encourage patriotism and protect students from religious discrimination. However, she agreed that the law did have a secular purpose of encouraging quiet contemplation.

Lynn called her ruling a “difficult and close question'' because of divergent statements by lawmakers at committee hearings and during floor debate in the Senate and House.

In her opinion, Lynn said “there is no doubt'' several legislators, including the bill's author, Sen. Jeff Wentworth, R-San Antonio, expressed a purpose to “put prayer back in schools.'' But legislative debate also focused on other ways students could spend the 60 seconds.
“Legislators repeatedly emphasized that students could stare at their shoes, think about upcoming exams, think about their pets, engage in other nonverbal activities during the moment of silence, as well as pray, if they wished,” Lynn said.

Earlier this year, a federal district judge in Illinois issued a temporary injunction banning a similar law from being observed in that state. A trial is pending.