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Breaking The Silence

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Georgia teacher Brian Bown's school year got off to a noisy start. On Aug. 22, the first day of school, Bown refused to observe a state-mandated minute of silence and kept on lecturing his class at South Gwinnett High School in Snellville, a suburb of Atlanta. When school officials insisted that he observe the law, Bown walked off the job. Superintendent George Thompson suspended Bown with pay and recommended that he be fired. But Bown fired back, filing a federal lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of the Brief Period of Quiet Reflection Act. The law, adopted this year, requires up to 60 seconds of silence at the beginning of the school day for "quiet reflection.'' The suit alleges that the mandate is an unconstitutional government establishment of religion, in part because some lawmakers saw it as a way to return a form of prayer to the public schools. Thompson says Bown, pictured above on the courthouse steps in Atlanta, was disciplined because of the way he handled the matter. "All he had to do was go into court and ask for an injunction,'' Thompson says. "If you continue to be disruptive and confrontational, at some point the school system has to draw the line.'' David Ates, Bown's lawyer, says the teacher tried to avoid a confrontation by requesting a planning period at the beginning of the day so he would not have to observe the minute of silence in front of students.

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