Americans United for Separation of Church and State joined the American Civil Liberties Union and its Texas affiliate last month in urging a federal appeals court to rule against a religiously motivated 2003 amendment to Texas’ “moment-of-silence” statute.
The amendment added “pray” to the statute’s list of activities for students during the moment of silence. AU and the ACLU contend that legislators stepped over the line when they made that change.
“Students were already allowed to pray, meditate or reflect under the statute before it was amended,” said Americans United Executive Director Barry W. Lynn. “The addition of the word ‘pray’ where it wasn’t needed clearly shows that legislators intended to promote religion, and that’s not their job.”
In 2003, the Texas legislature enacted amendments to Section 25.082 of the Education Code, making the moment of silence mandatory and changing the list of designated options for students during the moment of silence from “reflect or meditate” to “reflect, pray, meditate, or engage in any other silent activity that is not likely to interfere with or distract another student.”
Some parents opposed the change, saying it amounts to an effort to coerce children to pray in school. In 2006, David and Shannon Croft, acting on behalf of their children, asked a federal district court to declare the statute unconstitutional under the First Amendment.
The Crofts sued Governor Rick Perry and the Carrollton-Farmers Branch Independent School District, where their children attended school. When a federal district court ruled against them, the Crofts appealed to the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.
The civil liberties groups’ brief in Croft v. Perry was written by Americans United Madison Fellow Nancy Leong, in consultation with AU Legal Director Ayesha N. Khan, AU Senior Litigation Counsel Alex J. Luchenitser, Daniel Mach, director of litigation for the ACLU Program on Freedom of Religion and Belief, and ACLU of Texas attorneys Lisa Graybill and Fleming Terrell.