A federal appeals court upheld on Monday a Texas law allowing students to observe a moment of silence at the beginning of each school day.
A three-judge panel from the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 5th Circuit affirmed a district court ruling, rejecting a North Texas couple's claim that the moment of silence law, which took effect in 2003, was unconstitutional.
The panel ruled that the statute is "facially neutral between religious and non-religious activities that students can choose to engage in during the moment of silence."
After the ruling, David Cortman, senior legal counsel for the Alliance Defense Fund which filed a friend-of-the-court brief in the case last year, stated, "A moment of silence is not a government endorsement of religion just because someone might use the time for prayer.
"No student is compelled to pray under the Texas law. The 5th Circuit was right to uphold the district court’s determination that the law is not an establishment of religion."
In 2006, David and Shannon Croft sued on behalf of their three children, who attend school in the Carrolton-Farmers Branch Independent School District. They argued that the 2003 amendment that specified the moment of silence as a time for students to "reflect, pray, meditate, or engage in any other silent activity that is not likely to interfere with or distract another student" was an endorsement of prayer.
"By including the word 'prayer' in there, that shows a nonsecular purpose," W. Dean Cook, a lawyer for the Crofts, told judges last month.
The appeals court, however, ruled on Monday that "none of the courts examining moment of silence statutes have found that the primary effect has been to advance or inhibit religion, and the Crofts point to no case law that supports their contentions."
Texas Attorney General Abbott who maintained that the 2003 statute was constitutional, commented, "The United States Constitution plainly protects young Texans' right to observe a moment of silence before school each morning."
"In an age where children are bombarded with distractions, beginning each school day with a moment of silence offers a welcome moment of quiet contemplation," he added.
Twenty-six states have moment of silence laws. Texas requires students to begin each school day reciting the Pledge of Allegiance and then observing one minute of silence.