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Federal court upholds 'moment of silence' law
Wednesday, January 9, 2008 • Posted January 8, 2008

A Dallas federal court on Jan. 2 upheld a 2003 state law that allows Texas schools to set aside time for students to reflect, pray or meditate in the classroom.

Plaintiffs David Wallace Croft and spouse Shannon Kristine Croft filed the lawsuit in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Texas.

The Crofts' children are students in the Carrollton-Farmers Branch school district.

In their lawsuit, the Crofts alleged the Texas moment of silence law is unconstitutional under the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment.

At issue were parts of chapter 25 of the Texas Education Code, which say:

(1) A school district may provide for a period of silence at the beginning of the first class of each school day during which a student may reflect or meditate; and

(2) A public school student has an absolute right to individually, voluntarily, and silently pray or meditate in school in a manner that does not disrupt the instructional or other activities of the school. A person may not require, encourage, or coerce a student to engage in or refrain from such prayer or meditation during any school activity.

The Legislature revised the moment of silence provision in 2003, adding the word "pray" to the list of designated options as well as "any other silent activity that is not likely to interfere with or distract another student."

The federal court held that "...the addition of the word 'pray' directly furthers the purpose of encouraging students to engage in individual contemplative activity."

The court also concluded such "thoughtful contemplation" is a "valid secular purpose" and that "the primary effect of the statute is to institute a moment of silence, not to advance or inhibit religion."

After the court rendered its decision, Attorney General Greg Abbott, a defendant in the lawsuit along with Gov. Rick Perry, said, "The court's ruling ensures that Texas schoolchildren are free to begin each day by voluntarily reflecting, meditating, or praying before school each morning.

"Particularly in an age where children are so frequently confronted with violence and disorder, 60 seconds of quiet contemplation at the beginning of each day is not too much to ask. ..."

Gym operators must be certified

Secretary of State Phil Wilson recommends that Texans first check to ensure a gym or health spa is registered with the Secretary of State before becoming a member.

Under state law, a person must obtain a health spa operator's certificate of registration from the Secretary of State before operating a health spa or selling a membership in a health spa.

An operator's certificate of registration is required for each health spa location. Unless the person qualifies for an exemption, a security deposit for each location must also be posted with the secretary of state to protect members of the club who suffer actual financial loss as a result of a closing.

"As Texans begin to work on their resolutions for 2008, it is important that they do the research to make sure they will be protected if their gym shuts down," Wilson said.

"A gym membership can be a significant financial commitment and I would urge all Texans to visit my Web site to check their club's registration status and review the steps to recover membership fees of closed gyms if applicable."

Commission chair passes away

Ric Williamson, 55-year-old chairman of the Texas Transportation Commission, suffered a heart attack and died Dec. 29.

A resident of Weatherford, Williamson served as a member of the Texas House of Representatives from 1985 to 1998.

He was appointed to the commission by Gov. Rick Perry in March 2001 and was named the chair in January 2004.

Agency boosts war on smoking

The Texas Department of State Health Services reports it is more than doubling its resources dedicated to free smoking cessation services provided through the American Cancer Society's Quitline.

This year, the agency plans to provide $550,000 for the service, up from $250,000 provided in 2007. The toll-free telephone counseling service at 1-877-YES-QUIT is available to all Texans trying to quit smoking or dipping, the state health agency said.

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