Mandatory Moment of Silence Approved in Texas March 16, 2009

Mandatory Moment of Silence Approved in Texas

After a long battle by David Croft and his wife Shannon Croft, Texas mandated a moment of silence in all public school classrooms today.

A three-judge panel from the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in New Orleans upheld a district court ruling, saying the law is constitutional because it expressly allows for any silent use of the period, either religious or nonreligious.

The 2003 law allows children to “reflect, pray, meditate or engage in any other silent activities” for one minute at the beginning of each school day.

Of course, this ruling is absurd. Just as in Illinois, the law is a thinly veiled attempt to force prayer in public schools. This law even uses the word “pray” in it.

There’s no need to force it when all religious students are welcome to pray, anyway.

This excerpt bothered me. It’s from a high-school who supports the new law:

In the one minute wedged between the pledge to Texas and American flags and the school day, Christine Michael prays to God for safety and guidance.

“To be watched over throughout the day and the week to be protected, not just for me, but for everyone,” said Michael, an 18-year-old senior at West Brook High School and outspoken Christian (which, incidentally, is also the pronunciation of his name).

With or without the state-mandated minute of silence, Michael said he would still pray each morning, but the dedicated quiet time gives him a moment to focus.

“It’s not that I’ve been told to do that or someone has asked me to do it,” he said. “It’s just what I feel I should do.”

Good! If you’re compelled to pray, do it. There’s no need to make everyone else join in on your superstition.

The provision, which took effect in September 2003, changed the way school days begin in Texas, allowing children to “reflect, pray, meditate or engage in any other silent activities” for one minute after the American and Texas pledges of allegiance have been recited.

Solicitor General James Ho argued for the state that the moment of silence fostered patriotism, provided time for contemplation and protected religious freedom.

“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,” Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott said Monday.

Circuit Judge Edith Brown Clement noted the lawmaker who sponsored the moment of silence bill expressed a desire to add prayer to Texas’ existing statute after the 4th Circuit Court of Appeals found a similar law in Virginia was constitutional.

But the judges said the law that ultimately took effect in Texas allows for any silent use of the time.

I don’t know what this means for the Illinois law — it’s currently undergoing an appeals process.

No one needs a moment of silence thrust upon them — there are already plenty of opportunities for that all the time.

You need calm to start your day? Set the alarm a minute early.

(Update: You may want to read this interesting comment by RHawk68)

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  • Tarrkid

    What I want to know is… What happens when the first student gets sent to the principal for doing homework…? Or *doodling*???

  • So atheist students should haul out a big-ass copy of Dawkins, Sam Harris, Bertrand Russell or the like, and spend the minute quietly reading it. Where everyone can see the title.

    Think “subversion”.

  • The next logical step, it seems, will be to have the students pray to the flag.

  • PrimeNumbers

    Hum. A non-silent protest. Humming, especially if you have a group of students who can hum to direct a teacher around a classroom (going quiet as the teacher gets near you) will drive them batty.

    Hum for the constitution.

  • kitty

    Hmmm…ANY use of my time?
    I think for one minute straight I would pull out a mirror and make funny faces.

  • I agree 100% Hemant. There’s no point for the mandatory moment of silence other than for religious folks to try to get others to pray.

    I hope this isn’t used as a stepping stone for an actual prayer mandate, but since it’s Texas, it wouldn’t surprise me.

  • RHawk68

    As a Texas Public High School Teacher – and an Atheist (a rare breed indeed) – this law has always bugged me. Coupled with the recent (as in last year) change to the wording of the state pledge to include the words, “one state, under god”, you can see where the whole state-mandated morning routine bugs the crap out of me.

    I had my hopes up for this challenge, but was also rationally realistic about its chances. The ruling was no surprise to me. But I will say this – the minute of silence (which by the way is rarely 60 seconds at the high school where I teach) certainly CAN be used for “any other silent activities”.

    I use it do my locally-mandated dress code check. Many of my students use it to frantically try to get their homework done. I’ve even seen kids use it as a chance to try out new dance moves, to try to make other students laugh in a sort of “funny face-off”. And yeah, I’ve even seen kids pray. The beauty of it though is this: in MY school at least (and I make no attempt to color all of Texas schools – this is just simply my experience) the praying students, the breakdancing students, the homework students let each other be.

    Kids are kids – but they know a little something their parents and our backwards legislators don’t: it’s ok to be tolerant. And today’s kids are tomorrow’s future leaders. Even in Texas, cracks in the hold that superstition has had on so many people for so many years are starting to show the light of reason… one dance move at a time.

  • I’m with Eamon Knight. If you really want to get their goat whip out the Satanic Bible, wear a Baphosimb and pray to Satan. If they protest tell them you’re exercising your Constitutionally protected Freedom of Religion. See how long they keep that mandated Moment of Silence in place.

  • I would make the comment however that there was a teacher at my high school who I heard though never witnessed enforced that you had “pray” during the moment of silence. That is one of the major fallacies of these sort of laws is that teachers can choose how to enforce the law and the students have a much limited ability to contradict or correct the teacher.

  • Wow – I never thought a moment of silence was that offensive. I mean, I always have the mental freedom to think about my squirrel photography, the weather outside, or my blog. Nobody’s forcing anyone to pray.

  • I lived in Texas for 5 years (elementary and intermediate school) in the late 70s, and I don’t remember a Texas pledge of allegiance at all. I absolutely HATED living in Texas, and it is possible I put it completely out of my mind.

  • Josha

    In Virginia we never pledged to the state flag. Is this a uniquely Texas thing?

  • @ RHawk68

    When did this Texas pledge thing come about? Last year when I taught in Houston we had to say it, but 6 years ago when I was in high school we didn’t. The first few times it came on I had to stop myself from laughing, I mean, pledging allegiance to your state, come on! Of course, at my high school in North Austin we only did the US pledge once a week or so in any case.

  • alcari

    “Any silent activity”

    Is “not being there” an activity? What about “going to the bathroom”, or “Racing up the stairs to get to the classroom”?

  • Sarah Langford

    I teach at an Anglican school in Australia and, as an atheist, I find the few minutes of silent reflection in Chapel very valuable. It’s a time for me, and non-christian students, to think. That’s something we often miss in the modern craziness. I too often use the time to plan my next lesson but sometimes I get to actually contemplate where I’m at with myself. It doesn’t have to be religious or spiritual at all.

  • or engage in any other silent activities

    SO how about a nice game of speed chess for the non-superstitious? Or just play your DS with the sound turned off. Hey, why not get adventurous with re-enactments of classic scenes from silent movies? :p

  • I approve wholeheartedly. Mime is a dying art form and allowing students one minute of their precious educational time to practice silently is important.


  • RHawk68

    @ Sabayon

    It became mandatory about four or five yers ago. You must have just missed it! Lucky you… The change to the wording was added last year. I remember at the large three district gathering at the beginning of the year when we all recited the new version for the first time, the majority of the faculty members in attendance applauded… yuck.

    @ Josha

    I don’t know how other states do it, but does it surprise anyone that Texas has and requires it’s own pledge? lol

    For anyone else out there interested, the text of our state pledge goes like this:
    “Honor the Texas flag. I pledge allegiance to thee, Texas. One state, under god, one and indivisible”

    One of my debate students made me proud a few years back when he pointed the hypocricy of pledging allegiance to “one nation… indivisible” and then turning around and pledging allegiance to a division of that one nation. 🙂

  • Catherine

    I’ve always been an agnostic. I was forced to go to a Christian school for middle/high school (my family thought it would make me a “good” person). Every morning there was prayer, and the pledge to the flag. However there was also the pledge to the bible and to the christian flag. I always found these a little ironic since my teachers were always attacking people who paid homage to idols which is what that seemed like. So Texas having a pledge to the state flag doesn’t surprise me, I’ve seen worse.

  • Me

    To be honest, I think I’d bring a pack of cards and practice some card tricks / shuffles.

    It’s what I used to do in boring lectures at university, and in some break times at school.

    Thinking back to my school days, I’d assume that most kids are just going to see this as a boring thing that they have to get through. Some people will try to get some homework finished at the last minute, some kids will mess around having fun, and most will probably just get their head down on the desk and shut their eyes.

    Whatever the intention of the law may be, I think the general disinterest of school kids is going to make sure that not every kid in the state is praying. Unless the teacher is walking up and down the classroom, cracking a whip at the kids who aren’t praying. Which may be a bit much, even for Texas.

  • Stephan Goodwin

    Simply stand by your desk, and silent shake your booty at the class…they’ll be praying they should never notice!

  • Secular Humanist

    There is absolutely no reason for a moment of silence. People can pray in their heads anywhere, anytime.

  • Vic

    Of course, Mathew 6:6 teaches them to pray at home in their rooms with the door closed. But, I suppose reading the Bible isn’t allowed during the moment of silence.

  • Reginald Selkirk

    Christine Michael prays to God for safety and guidance….outspoken Christian (which, incidentally, is also the pronunciation of his name).

    He’s male, and his parents gave him a female name? No wonder he’s so @#$%#$%ed up.

  • Grimalkin

    Does this mean that Texan students are allowed to do anything as long as it’s silent? Could they read a book?

    At least that would be a more valuable use of their time…

  • David D.G.

    Once again, I am disgusted and embarrassed for the state I call my home.

    ~David D.G.

  • TXatheist

    Grimalkin asks a serious question and one I’ve called my local school about. The answer is no. See, you are required to stand and be silent even if you have the opt out form signed by your parents. I was steaming mad. They said that it is a distraction if the child does anything but that. (funny, sitting silently is what they do most of the day and that seems ok). So, my next stance is to sign the opt out and inform them my son may turn his back to the flags. Do mess with Texas. This sadly doesn’t surprise me as our Attorney General Greg Abbott also said the 10 C monument at the capitol is a secular monument.

  • RMW

    I’m a recent graduate of Prince William County Schools in Virginia, and ever since 9/11, we’ve had the ‘moment of silence’, and the principal would frequently say that it was a moment to pray, reflect or meditate.

  • Jesus Freak

    get a life, a moment of silence is sacred. You do what you want with it. It doesn’t hurt anyone but those who feel threatened by the force of God. You assume everyone is praying and you assume you are being forced to do the same, but in fact you live in fear because you aren’t doing what you know to be right. Do what you want but don’t take away something from people just because you don’t like it. You don’t hear christian saying to you that your belief to ignore the lord will lead you to death. They let you be with no force or thought to change your mind. Like i said get a life. You should be worrying about all the kids that die everyday from gang violence and the teachers in your schools that are molesting little children.

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