Moment of silence legal, not enforced


Adding legal irony to the Texas legislature’s running from education problems in the state, a federal court in Dallas upheld the state’s “moment of silence” law a few weeks ago, saying it is not an illegal establishment of religion. The fact that many or most of the students in the state refuse to follow the law earned no mention in the decision.

It’s more shooting at education and educators in the continuing War on Education.

So the law is legal, but largely unenforced, and maybe unenforceable. The law is on the books. I have yet to find a school in Texas that is ambitious about enforcing the law. A suggestion that kids should “honor a moment of silence” is often met with laughter, and generally met with conversations and actions that do anything but follow the law. The lesson the kids take away is that laws can be flouted, or maybe that they should be flouted. I’m imagining a bit — I don’t know what lesson the kids are taking away. The Texas moment of silence is not honored by students in many schools; administrators are reluctant to enforce it with any disciplinary action. Students are not learning respect for religion, nor respect for any God. Sadly, they’re not learning respect for others’ faiths, either.

Teachers are charged with assuring compliance with the law. The legislature decided not to punish students for disobeying it, but instead hold teachers responsible for making sure students obey it.

I imagine the defenders of the law, including Kelly Shackleford at Plano’s Liberty Legal Institute, think this law is a boon to faith. It seems to function much as the establishment laws in Europe, however: It discourages kids from making their faith their own, discourages an honoring of faith, and ultimately pushes kids out of the pews. Students do not think the moment is anything other than a time for prayer in my experience. Some schools get around much trouble by making the legally required minute last about 15 seconds.

There’s no law on the books that says legislators and judges must be intelligent and show common sense. One wishes they would use common sense once in a while. Mark Twain noted that God goofed in prohibiting the apple to Adam; God should have prohibited the snake, then Adam would have eaten it instead, Twain said. In this case, the legislature has prohibited talking. Guess what happens.

Plaintiffs plan to appeal according to David Wallace Croft, the chief plaintiff, at his blog. Teachers and students are stuck with the law as it is (see the actual opinion), an embarrassing moment in the day. According to an Associated Press story in the Houston Chronicle:

David and Shannon Croft filed their initial lawsuit after they said one of their children was told by an elementary schoolteacher to keep quiet because the minute is a “time for prayer.” The complaint, filed in 2006, named Gov. Rick Perry and the Carrollton-Farmers Branch Independent School District, which the Crofts’ three children attended in the suburbs of Dallas.

District Judge Barbara Lynn upheld the constitutionality of the law earlier this month, concluding that “the primary effect of the statute is to institute a moment of silence, not to advance or inhibit religion.”

Resources:

The board of trustees of each school district shall provide for the observance of one minute of silence at each school in the district following the recitation of the pledges of allegiance to the United States and Texas flags under Subsection (b). During the one-minute period, each student may, as the student chooses, reflect, pray, meditate, or engage in any other silent activity that is not likely to interfere with or distract another student. Each teacher or other school employee in charge of students during that period shall ensure that each of those students remains silent and does not act in a manner that is likely to interfere with or distract another student.

Tex. Educ. Code 25.082(d).

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6 Responses to Moment of silence legal, not enforced

  1. [...] We covered the original trial court decision here at the Bathtub. [...]

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  2. ruben says:

    The moment of silence also (certainly indirectly) is dissent-proof. If a student refuses to recite the Pledge of Allegiance they need only sit down in silence; this does not “materially disrupt the school environment” and therefore does not violate school policy. How do you protest a moment of silence though? Talking? Then the administrators can easily claim “material disruption” and discipline you. (I will admit my school does push the minute down to about 15 seconds by “creative chronology”, I suppose)

    At the end of the day, though, the moment of silence was intended for prayer, however the Legislature attempts to spin it (and I say this as both a Christian and a fierce advocate for the separation of church and state). Their arguments are:

    1) A moment of silent contemplation helps students perform better throughout the day.
    [Students can "contemplate" on their own time - given the incredible pressure on teachers to make sure students do well on TAKS, why even waste a minute of time? Teachers at my school will simply not teach until the announcements and moment of silence are over, so we really lose about ten minutes. No one I know "contemplates" anyway; the rare student will pray, but most just work in silence.]

    2) A moment of silence does not specify prayer or a religious identity, and allows all people to meditate or pray equally.
    [No it doesn't. A minute isn't enough time for a Muslim or even a Catholic to get through rites needed to pray. If we're going to treat all religions equally, we might as well excuse Muslims at prayer times to be fair]

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  3. mssc54 says:

    In many schools the ol saying “The inmates are running the asylum” rings true. Sad but true.

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  4. Bad says:

    The logic being the moment of silence makes no sense. Citizens do not need “extra” time to pray, and if they do, then simply start school a minute later: then they can pray out loud all they want!

    The ONLY thing that the moment of silence does as far as prayer is coerces non-praying people to take part.

    I can see a secular purpose in moments of silence for discipline purposes, but claims that it is a necessary religious accommodation are ridiculous on their face. And I say that as someone who thinks that reasonable accommodations should be made for religious practice when necessary and equally available on the basis of accommodating special needs of particular students period.

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  5. Ed Darrell says:

    Georgia followed Alabama with a moment of silence law, but in Georgia the sponsor was careful to avoid any mention of prayer. He cited the research that shows a moment of contemplation before a task tends to improve performance, and suggested a moment of silent contemplation of a good day of learning certainly couldn’t help. I don’t recall now whether the Supremes refused cert on the case or issued a ruling (and I can’t find it quickly — so much for free case searches) but the law was allowed to stand.

    It makes sense to me, as one who uses meditation. I don’t have a serious objection to a moment of silence. I do object to trying to carve a loophole in the First Amendment, however, and there is no question to any Texan I’ve ever talked to that the Texas Lege intended an assault on the First Amendment. There is no question to any kid in any class I’ve ever taught, and there is no misunderstanding that their refusal to follow the law is a thumb in they eye of the Texas Lege as well as a swipe at anyone who needs to pray in school.

    In Utah we used to have a dozen or more public school teachers in the legislature every year. Stupid stuff like this generally didn’t happen. I wish teachers in Texas got enough respect that we could elect a dozen of them. It would improve things, most likely.

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  6. blueollie says:

    I am sorry to say that we have similar idiotic stuff like this in Illinois. A judge did rule that the silence rule was illegal though.

    But here is what happened: prior to last year, the rule was that a school *could* have a moment of silence. Then the clowns in our state legislature (a Democratically controlled one at that) decided to make the rule read “shall” and fortunately someone sued.

    Idiots.

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