A federal appeals court has upheld a 2003 Texas law that requires a daily moment of silence in schools for students to “reflect, pray, or meditate.”
The law amended and earlier state statute that had merely permitted school districts to observe a moment of silence and did not mention prayer as an acceptable way for students to pass the time.
A three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 5th Circuit, in New Orleans, on March 16 agreed with a federal district court in rejecting a First Amendment challenge to the law.
Noting that the amended law also requires school districts to lead daily recitations of the Pledge of Allegiance, the appeals court said that the law had the valid secular purpose “to foster patriotism and provide for a period, if a student so desires, of thoughtful contemplation.”
“The statute is facially neutral between religious and non-religious activities that students can choose to engage in during the moment of silence,” the court said in Croft v. Governor of Texas.
The law was challenged by a Texas family who argued the mandatory daily moment of silence was an unconstituitional government establishment of religion.
The appeals court distinguished an Alabama moment-of-silence law struck down by the U.S. Supreme Court in 1985 in Wallace v. Jaffree. In that case, it was clear that the Alabama law had the purpose of advancing religion because its sponsor had stated that it was an effort to return “voluntary prayer” to the public schools, the appeals court said.
The Associated Press reports on Monday’s 5th Circuit decision here.
A version of this news article first appeared in The School Law Blog.