Texas officials defend "moment of silence"

By Morgan Chesky - email

Posted by Ellen Krafve - email

EAST TEXAS, TX (KLTV) - They say it "provides an opportunity for students to engage in thoughtful contemplation." Now, the Texas Solicitor General and Attorney General are defending a law that lets students pray during a moment of silence in public schools.

In 2003, the Texas legislature amended the "moment of silence law" to require one minute of silence in public schools, rather than allowing them. But in 2008, a Texas couple sued, saying the law endorses religion and is unconstitutional. As both sides continue to argue their cases in a U.S. Court of Appeals we look at the law to find out why silence is causing East Texans to speak out.

First graders at Rice Elementary begin each day the same in silence.

"We have our pledge of allegiance then our pledge to the texas flag and then our campus does observe a moment of silence and the children are free to respond in a way that they feel appropriate," said Rice Elementary School Principal Jennifer Sturm.

But a North Texas couple calls the silence inappropriate. The brief sums up a lawsuit filed by the parents, arguing the word prayer in the definition promotes religion and is therefore unconstitutional. One legislator disagrees.

"It isn't requiring students to pray, number one we aren't talking about audible prayer, we're not talking about audible anything," explained Senator Jeff Wentworth. "We're talking about sixty seconds of silence during which time the student may reflect, or meditate, or pray, or worry about the algebra test next period."

The Texas Code of Education says that during the one-minute period, each student may choose to do almost anything; including pray with their quiet time as long as it is not likely to interfere with or distract another student.

With the appeal trial expected to last months, public schools in Texas strengthen their case by placing the minute of silence after the pledge of allegiance. They say it passes on values rooted in civic and Texas history, but one educator has her own reason.

"Everybody enjoys just a moment to take a deep breath think about the day and start fresh," said Sturm.

If the appeal is upheld, Texas will join twenty-four states currently without a moment of silence in public schools.