Teacher Who Defied 'Minute of Silence' Fights for His Job
A Georgia teacher who lectured his pupils in defiance of a state-mandated minute of silence faces possible dismissal by the Gwinnett County school board.
Brian G. Bown has sued the Gwinnett district and state officials, seeking reinstatement at South Gwinnett High School in Snellville, an Atlanta suburb.
Mr. Bown's lawsuit challenges the constitutionality of the Brief Period of Quiet Reflection Act, a state law adopted this year that requires up to 60 seconds of silence at the beginning of the school day for "quiet reflection."
The suit alleges that the minute of silence is an unconstitutional government establishment of religion, in part because some lawmakers saw it as a step toward returning a form of prayer to the public schools.
The incident began on Aug. 22, the first day of the school year, when Mr. Bown refused to observe the minute of silence and kept on lecturing his class. School officials met with the American-government teacher and made clear they expected him to observe the law.
The next morning, Mr. Bown told the principal he would not obey the law and walked off his job, said George Thompson, the superintendent of the Gwinnett district.
The superintendent suspended Mr. Bown with pay and recommended that he be fired. The school board will consider the matter on Sept. 21.
Mr. Thompson said the teacher was disciplined because of the way he handled his protest of the law.
"Our issue is plain and simply one of professional conduct," said Mr. Thompson. He said that Mr. Bown also had stormed out of two faculty meetings about the implementation of the minute of silence and had invited the news media to the school.
"All he had to do was go into court and ask for an injunction," Mr. Thompson said. "If you continue to be disruptive and confrontational, at some point the school system has to draw the line."
David Ates, one of Mr. Bown's lawyers, said the teacher tried to avoid a confrontation by requesting a planning period at the beginning of the school day so he would not have to observe the minute of silence in front of students.
"He feels that [the minute of silence] being conducted in his presence when he has to preside over the classroom violates the Constitution," Mr. Ates said.