Law & Courts

Appeals Court Allows Moment of Silence in Ga. Schools

By Linda Jacobson — May 14, 1997 2 min read

Georgia students may continue to start the school day with a 60-second moment of silence, a federal appeals court said last week, ruling that the state-mandated “period of quiet reflection” does not violate the U.S. Constitution’s ban on government establishment of religion.

The third moment-of-silence law to reach a federal appeals court, Georgia’s statute is the first to withstand constitutional scrutiny, said Harland Loeb, a lawyer for the Anti-Defamation League’s Midwest region.

Also on May 6, a three-judge panel from the same U.S. Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit in Atlanta, declined to rule on the constitutionality of a policy in Florida’s Duval County school district that gives seniors two minutes to make uncensored statements at their high school graduation ceremonies. Some students have used the time to pray.

In the Georgia case, Brian G. Bown, a suburban Atlanta teacher who was fired for not observing a moment of silence in his class, challenged the law as an attempt to sneak prayer into public schools that would force teachers to monitor student prayer.

The three-judge appeals panel, upholding a lower court’s decision, said May 6 that the law passes the three-pronged test set by the U.S. Supreme Court in 1971 on church-state issues: It has a clear secular purpose, does not promote or inhibit religion, and does not excessively entangle government and religion.

The 1994 state law was part of a legislative package designed to curtail violent crime among juveniles. It says students may use the minute for “silent reflection on the anticipated activities of the day.” But it does not authorize student-initiated prayers at school or school events as Mr. Bown contends, the panel held.

Mr. Loeb said the decision “is part of a continuing effort of religious groups to reintroduce prayer and religion in public life.”

But Linda Hamrick, a co-founder of the conservative United Parents for Excellence in Education, a Georgia group, said as long as state legislators open their sessions with prayer, students should at least be allowed to observe a moment of silence. “Why is the classroom out of bounds for things that the highest officials in the land do?” asked Ms. Hamrick.

Mr. Bown’s lawyer, Steven Leibel, of Atlanta, said he plans to appeal the decision in Bown v. Gwinnett County School District to the Supreme Court.

Moot Point in Florida Case

In the Duval County case, the three-judge panel declined to either uphold or strike down the school system’s graduation policy. Instead, the court zeroed in on technical aspects of the case filed by three students and their parents in 1993. A fourth student joined Adler v. Duval County School Board in 1994.

The court said the plaintiffs’ request for a temporary injunction to block enforcement of the graduation-speech policy was moot because the students involved in the case have since graduated. Further, the former students cannot collect damages, the court said.

But Gray Thomas, the Jacksonville, Fla., lawyer who represents the students’ families, argued that the case still merits review because the graduates have younger siblings in the Duval County schools. He said he may appeal the panel’s finding to the full 11th Circuit court.

Related Tags:

Events

Jobs The EdWeek Top School Jobs Virtual Career Fair
Find teaching jobs and other jobs in K-12 education at the EdWeek Top School Jobs virtual career fair.
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
Mathematics Webinar
Engaging Young Students to Accelerate Math Learning
Join learning scientists and inspiring district leaders, for a timely panel discussion addressing a school district’s approach to doubling and tripling Math gains during Covid. What started as a goal to address learning gaps in
Content provided by Age of Learning & Digital Promise, Harlingen CISD
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
Curriculum Webinar
How to Power Your Curriculum With Digital Books
Register for this can’t miss session looking at best practices for utilizing digital books to support their curriculum.
Content provided by OverDrive

EdWeek Top School Jobs

Teacher Jobs
Search over ten thousand teaching jobs nationwide — elementary, middle, high school and more.
View Jobs
Principal Jobs
Find hundreds of jobs for principals, assistant principals, and other school leadership roles.
View Jobs
Administrator Jobs
Over a thousand district-level jobs: superintendents, directors, more.
View Jobs
Support Staff Jobs
Search thousands of jobs, from paraprofessionals to counselors and more.
View Jobs

Read Next

Law & Courts High Court Asks Biden Administration Views on Harvard Affirmative Action in Admissions
Some had expected U.S. Supreme Court justices to jump at the chance to reconsider the practices in education, but that's delayed for now.
3 min read
In this Nov. 10, 2020 photo the sun rises behind the U.S. Supreme Court in Washington. The Supreme Court seemed concerned Tuesday, Dec. 1, about the impact of siding with food giants Nestle and Cargill and ending a lawsuit that claims they knowingly bought cocoa beans from farms in Africa that used child slave labor. The court was hearing arguments in the case by phone because of the coronavirus pandemic.
The U.S. Supreme Court is still weighing whether to hear a case challenging Harvard University's race-conscious admissions policies.
Alex Brandon/AP
Law & Courts If Critical Race Theory Is Banned, Are Teachers Protected by the First Amendment?
Bills to rein in how race and other controversial topics are taught have thrust K-12 teachers into a thicket of free speech issues.
10 min read
Image shows a teacher in a classroom.
skynesher/E+
Law & Courts Puerto Rico’s Former Education Secretary Pleads Guilty to Fraud Conspiracy
Julia Keleher pleaded guilty to federal fraud conspiracy charges, striking a felony plea bargain and potentially avoiding maximum jail time.
Syra Ortiz-Blanes, The Miami Herald
4 min read
In this Oct. 13, 2017 file photo, Education Secretary Julia Keleher gets a hug from a student at Ramon Marin Sola Elementary School, in Guaynabo, Puerto Rico.
In this Oct. 13, 2017 photo, Education Secretary Julia Keleher hugs a student at Ramon Marín Sola Elementary School, in Guaynabo, Puerto Rico. The former education secretary pleaded guilty to two federal fraud conspiracy charges for crimes committed during her time as Puerto Rico’s top education official.
Carlos Giusti/AP
Law & Courts High Court Declines to Hear Ex-Principal's Race-Bias Case Over Transfer to Central Office
The justices also refuse to take up a case challenging the requirement that men, but not women, register for the military draft.
4 min read
In this Nov. 4, 2020 photo, the Supreme Court in Washington.
In this Nov. 4, 2020 photo, the Supreme Court in Washington.
J. Scott Applewhite/AP