Texas Considers Virginia-Style Minute of Silence

July 7, 2008 - 7:03 PM

(CNSnews.com) - Texas lawmakers plan to introduce legislation that would allow a minute of silence in public schools, much like the Virginia provision that was upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court this week.

The issue of public school prayer was catapulted into the spotlight after Texas Republican Gov. Rick Perry participated in a prayer at a school in the east Texas town of Palestine on Oct. 18. Perry prayed with the group of middle-school children at an assembly held in the school's auditorium.

Since then, the Supreme Court declined to hear a challenge to a Virginia law that allows students to observe 60 seconds of silence in the classroom. The nation's highest court upheld the state law by default in refusing to hear an appeal.

Texas State Rep. Rick Green, a Republican, said he intends to file a bill that would allow for a comparable measure in Texas public schools.

"I have already talked to my staff about getting ready to file that thing on the first day to pre-file bills for the next session," Green said.

He also believes the 1962 Supreme Court ruling, which banned organized prayer from public schools, was flawed.

"I certainly think that the law needs to be changed and the Supreme Court has erred in their interpretation of the Founding Fathers' intent on the First Amendment. The Founding Fathers would have never agreed with the Supreme Court's view of separation of church and state, requiring that we don't have any kind of organized prayer in our public schools," Green said.

Green admits that not everyone in his state will agree with the measure but believes it will be accepted by a majority of Texans. "I think there will certainly be some dissenters that either are uneducated about what the First Amendment actually says or just simply are against all things religious.

"I believe that the people of Texas are certainly going to be for it and certainly love the opportunity for their kids to be able to have some recognition every morning or some opportunity every morning to exercise their faith," Green said of the bill.

Will Harrell, executive director of the ACLU in Texas, said Perry's participation in the prayer was a violation of the constitution. "On one level, I think it might have been an honest mistake... but, on another level it was a blatant violation of the separation of church and state," he said.

"School prayer has been prohibited for nearly [forty] years. The Supreme Court recently made that very clear, that even prayer outside of the normal school context, if it's promoted and sponsored by the school, is a violation of the First Amendment," he said.

Harrell said his group is watching how the Virginia law unfolds, but accepts its finality.

"It is the law. The Supreme Court has determined that is not an impermissible violation of the separation of church and state and we accept the Supreme Court and that is the law," he said. "Our concern is how it will actually be played out in certain school districts or schools for that matter."

Texas State Senator Ken Armbrister said he believes there is an interest in re-evaluating the state's position on prayer in public schools. "I certainly support [prayer in school] and I'm a Democrat, and I can tell you that there are many other Democrats I have talked to over the years that are of the same opinion," he said.

Armbrister explains the precedent has already been set. "I used to be vice-president of our school board, and before every school board meeting we have a prayer," he said.

He also said the Texas legislature opens with prayer every morning. "Some day it's a rabbi, some day it's a Catholic priest, some day it's a Baptist minister, some day it's Methodist, but we do have a prayer every morning," Armbrister said.

The Texas Freedom Network, an Austin-based organization, believes a minute of silence would be an appropriate measure. "It seems like a very reasonable way to invite students to practice the faith of their choice," Samantha Smoot, executive director for the group, said.

However, Smoot believes that students already have a right to pray in schools. "Students in this country have the right to pray in school and they have the right to lead prayer among voluntary groups of their peers," she said.

"A lot of people say that as long as there are pop quizzes, there will be prayer in schools," Smoot said.