AU, ACLU File Brief Objecting To Government Promotion Of Prayer In Tx' 'Moment-Of-Silence' Law

Promotion Of Religion Is Not Legislators' Job, Say Civil Liberties Groups

Americans United for Separation of Church and State, the American Civil Liberties Union and the ACLU of Texas submitted a friend-of-the-court brief today to a federal appeals court urging the 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.

“Students were already allowed to pray, meditate, or reflect under the statute before it was amended,” said the Rev. Barry W. Lynn, executive director of Americans United for Separation of Church and State. “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.”

In 2006, David and Shannon Croft, acting on behalf of their children, unsuccessfully sought an order in federal district court preventing the enforcement of the amended “moment-of-silence” statute and declaring it unconstitutional under the First Amendment. The Crofts sued Governor Rick Perry and the Carrollton-Farmers Branch Independent School District, where their children attended school. The Crofts are now asking the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals to overturn the district court’s decision upholding the amendment.

“Given the breadth of the old statute, this amendment serves only one unmistakable, unconstitutional aim: to encourage prayer during the moment of silence,” said T. Jeremy Gunn, director of the ACLU Program on Freedom of Religion and Belief.  “The state and its public schools should not be in the business of endorsing religious practices.”

“Just as the Constitution generally protects students’ right to pray, it prohibits the state from pushing them to do so,” said Lisa Graybill, legal director for the ACLU of Texas.  “Parents don’t want the public schools teaching their children someone else’s religion, and the Constitution doesn’t allow it.”

The brief was written by Americans United Madison Fellow Nancy Leong, in consultation with Americans United Legal Director Ayesha N. Khan, Americans United 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 Graybill and Fleming Terrell.

Americans United is a religious liberty watchdog group based in Washington, D.C. Founded in 1947, the organization educates Americans about the importance of church-state separation in safeguarding religious freedom.

Americans United is a religious liberty watchdog group based in Washington, D.C. Founded in 1947, the organization educates Americans about the importance of church-state separation in safeguarding religious freedom.