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Georgia ‘Moment of Silence’ law survives appeals court challenge

ATLANTA (BP)–Georgia’s “moment of silence” law, which mandates a one-minute period at the start of every day that can be used by students for personal prayer or other forms of quiet reflection, was upheld May 6 by the federal appeals court in Atlanta.
The court rejected the claim that the law violated First Amendment concerns by returning prayer to public schools.
“By stating that the moment of quiet reflection shall not be conducted as a religious service or exercise, the statute indicates that Georgia is not advocating the moment of quiet reflection as a time for religious activity,” Judge Lanier Anderson wrote in the court’s unanimous opinion.
The law, passed by the Georgia General Assembly in 1994, was challenged by Brian Bown, then a social studies teacher at South Gwinnett High School in Snellville. An attorney for Bown, who now lives in Illinois, said the case will be appealed, according to an article in The Atlanta Journal/Constitution.
Harlan Loeb of the Anti-Defamation League said the law is the first of its type to survive review by a federal appeals court, the article stated.
In his ruling, Anderson said the act meets a standard set by the U.S. Supreme Court in 1971. In that ruling, the court said laws regarding religion in the schools are constitutional if they have a secular purpose, do not advance or promote religion and do not excessively entangle government with religion.
The justice noted in the opinion that state Sen. David Scott (D-Atlanta) introduced the legislation as one way to address violence in the schools, not as a way of introducing school prayer.
Anderson said while some lawmakers may have believed the purpose was to return prayer to the schools, others believed differently. “The act’s clearly secular purpose is sincere and not a sham,” he said.
Martha Brady, elementary schools executive director for Gwinnett County schools, said “moment of silence” has become a routine part of the day for children with positive results, according to the article.
“It seems to serve as a constructive way to start the day when students and teachers can pull their thoughts together or use it in whatever way that supports their beliefs,” she said.
An American Civil Liberties Union spokesman said there may be future challenges.
“This law survived by the skin of its teeth, really,” the spokesman told the Journal/Constitution. “The court left open the fact that there may be applications of this statute that are unconstitutional, such as claims by students that they are being coerced into engaging in silent prayer.”