Stupid teacher tricks: No, teachers can’t lead prayers

May 26, 2010

What devilry gets into a tiny few teachers to make them think they alone are immune from the First Amendment?

In a public classroom, teachers are the government.  They may not lead prayers, not even if all the students consent.

Down in Meadville, Mississippi, a Franklin County High School teacher, Alice Hawley,  lost her teaching contract because she led daily prayers in her classes.

She agreed to stop the illegal practice, and has been invited back.

I understand fans on Facebook have come unglued.  I haven’t found that link.

Herblock cartoon of June 18, 1963 - school prayer

Probably still under copyright - Herblock in the Washington Post, June 18, 1963 (school prayer)

5th Circuit approves Texas “moment of silence” law

March 19, 2009

Any Texas student who had hoped to get out of the one-minute silence exercise suffered a defeat on St. Patrick’s Day.  A three-judge panel of the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals sustained a Texas federal court’s ruling that the state-mandated moment of silence is legal.

Edith Brown Clement wrote the decision for the panel, in Croft vs. Texas (the link is to a .pdf of the decision).

David and Shannon Croft, as parents and next friends of their three minor children (collectively, the “Crofts”), bring suit against the governor of the state of Texas, Rick Perry (“Perry”), arguing that Texas Education Code § 25.082(d) is an unconstitutional establishment of religion. The district court granted summary judgment in favor of Perry, holding that § 25.082(d) had a secular legislative purpose and was not an establishment of religion. For the following reasons, we affirm.

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The Crofts have standing to challenge the 2003 Amendments. But the Amendments are constitutional and satisfy all three prongs of the Lemon analysis. There is no excessive entanglement, and the primary effect of the Amendments is not to advance religion. The most difficult prong—for this and for moment of silence statutes generally—is legislative purpose. But our review of legislative history is deferential, and such deference leads to an adequate secular purpose in this case. While we cannot allow a “sham” legislative purpose, we should generally defer to the stated legislative intent. Here, that intent was to promote patriotism and allow for a moment of quiet contemplation.  These are valid secular purposes, and are not outweighed by limited legislative history showing that some legislators may have been motivated by religion. Because the 2003 Amendments survive the Lemon test, they are not an unconstitutional establishment of religion, and the judgment of the district court is AFFIRMED

We covered the original trial court decision here at the Bathtub.

Not much news coverage of the story, not so much as I would have thought (many Texas schools are on break this week).  No firm word on whether the Crofts will appeal further.  An Illinois case went the other way in January — enough conflict to get the Supreme Court involved?  Difficult to say.  The Illinois Legislature is working to undo the federal court decision, in Illinois.

Would it be a good case to cover in government?  What do you think?

What should the students meditate on?  A suggestion from the comments at the Dallas Morning News blogsite:

“May we please have a moment of science, for those poor souls that cannot understand evolution as God’s scientific method.”
Joseph Cassles

Moment of silence legal, not enforced

January 27, 2008

Adding legal irony to the Texas legislature’s running from education problems in the state, a federal court in Dallas upheld the state’s “moment of silence” law a few weeks ago, saying it is not an illegal establishment of religion. The fact that many or most of the students in the state refuse to follow the law earned no mention in the decision.

It’s more shooting at education and educators in the continuing War on Education.

So the law is legal, but largely unenforced, and maybe unenforceable. The law is on the books. I have yet to find a school in Texas that is ambitious about enforcing the law. A suggestion that kids should “honor a moment of silence” is often met with laughter, and generally met with conversations and actions that do anything but follow the law. The lesson the kids take away is that laws can be flouted, or maybe that they should be flouted. I’m imagining a bit — I don’t know what lesson the kids are taking away. The Texas moment of silence is not honored by students in many schools; administrators are reluctant to enforce it with any disciplinary action. Students are not learning respect for religion, nor respect for any God. Sadly, they’re not learning respect for others’ faiths, either.

Teachers are charged with assuring compliance with the law. The legislature decided not to punish students for disobeying it, but instead hold teachers responsible for making sure students obey it.

I imagine the defenders of the law, including Kelly Shackleford at Plano’s Liberty Legal Institute, think this law is a boon to faith. It seems to function much as the establishment laws in Europe, however: It discourages kids from making their faith their own, discourages an honoring of faith, and ultimately pushes kids out of the pews. Students do not think the moment is anything other than a time for prayer in my experience. Some schools get around much trouble by making the legally required minute last about 15 seconds.

There’s no law on the books that says legislators and judges must be intelligent and show common sense. One wishes they would use common sense once in a while. Mark Twain noted that God goofed in prohibiting the apple to Adam; God should have prohibited the snake, then Adam would have eaten it instead, Twain said. In this case, the legislature has prohibited talking. Guess what happens.

Plaintiffs plan to appeal according to David Wallace Croft, the chief plaintiff, at his blog. Teachers and students are stuck with the law as it is (see the actual opinion), an embarrassing moment in the day. According to an Associated Press story in the Houston Chronicle:

David and Shannon Croft filed their initial lawsuit after they said one of their children was told by an elementary schoolteacher to keep quiet because the minute is a “time for prayer.” The complaint, filed in 2006, named Gov. Rick Perry and the Carrollton-Farmers Branch Independent School District, which the Crofts’ three children attended in the suburbs of Dallas.

District Judge Barbara Lynn upheld the constitutionality of the law earlier this month, concluding that “the primary effect of the statute is to institute a moment of silence, not to advance or inhibit religion.”


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