October 27, 2007

A Moment of Silence

It's astonishing to me that we're still arguing about prayer in public schools. I would have thought that this was a resolved issue -- schools can neither sponsor religious expression, nor prohibit voluntary religious expression on the part of students that does not interfere with instructional activity. But, some people just don't get it. So, the Illinois Legislature changed a law schools to have a moment at the beginning of class for "silent prayer or reflection" to instead require that the teacher have such a moment of silence. And it has earned the state (and a local school district) a lawsuit for its officiousness.

This isn't hard, people. A school can neither sponsor nor prohibit voluntary religious expression.

Examples of prohibiting religious expression include:
  • Not allowing students to form clubs organized around religion
  • Punishing students for prayer or Bible study during non-class time
  • Dress codes targeting clothing expressing religious statements

Examples of sponsoring religious expression include:
  • Invocations of God during school ceremonies
  • Teaching religious doctrine in science or health class
  • Telling students that it's okay to use instructional time for prayer

A public school can't do any of the above.

Yes, there are some closer calls than this. What if a student includes an invocation of God when giving a commencement speech? (I think she should be allowed to do so without penalty; she doesn't speak for the school.) What if a school's code of conduct requires students to not discriminate against one another on the basis of sexual orientation, and a student wears a T-shirt invoking particular Biblical passages condemning homosexuality? (The student is properly subject to discipline; the policy does not target religion.) What if the Bible study club wants to use a classroom during the lunch period to meet and have a religious activity? (No dice; public facilities cannot support private religious activity -- but at the same time, the Bible study club can meet in an area generally open to the student body, like a lunchroom, and school employees should permit them to meet and punish other students who might try to disrupt the meeting.)

But the "moment of silence" is not a close call. It is a transparent film over a public school's official encouragement of students to pray. Adding the option of "silent meditation" does not ameliorate the fact that the school is using instructional time to encourage religious activity. It's readily apparent that Buddhists, Sikhs, Hindus, Taoists, Shintoists, and atheists are not asking for this to be included in class time, and a reasonable student would infer that the school is making an official accommodation to people who want to pray to Jehovah and that the opportunity for non-devotional "meditation" is not the reason that the moment of silence is taking place. For that reason, it's an establishment of religion and a violation of the Constitution.

I realize this is not the greatest threat to liberty that we face in this country. But it's important because while small, it represents another step down a path leading to a very bad destination.


Orange Phantom said...

hmmm where do I start?

First, evolution is a religon. They teach that. Second, the kids in public school welcome 30 seconds of not having to listen to the teacher. Let them pray to Tom Cruise or Angelina Jolie if they want.

Seeing as though the originators of our country refered to God, we certainly can allow someone to pray to their God if they choose to.

I do understand the sponsorship part though. DOn't mention any supreme being at football games or band concerts. That's fine. I do not believe that schools should allow religeous groups to meet after school. There are churches for that.

Burt Likko said...

I just don't understand your contention that evolution is a religion. It's not.

What god do evolutionists worship? What are the qualifications to become a priest of that god? What sins does an errant evolutionist commit, and how does an evolutionist seek atonement for those sins? What does evolution teach about the afterlife?

Maybe you're using a radically different definition of the term "religion" than I am.

Salsola said...

If evolution is a religion, so is gravity - and I have never heard of anybody praying to falling apples.

The problem with a "moment of silence" is that it imposes the belief that we should pray. This is especially odd since we now have evidence that prayer does nothing.

zzi said...

Almighty God: Our sons, pride of our nation, this day have set upon a mighty endeavor, a struggle to preserve our Republic, our religion, and our civilization, and to set free a suffering humanity. . .
Thy will be done, Almighty God.

Franklin Delano Roosevelt
June 6, 1944
This prayer was recited the other night on Ken Burn's "The War".
What silly fools that generation was.

Orange Phantom said...

I define religion as a set of beliefs the dictate how you live your life. Pretty simple. My perspective is that evolutionists denounce creationists as heritichs (pls excuse my spelling...) Evolution defines how they live. While I cannot prove that creation took place, I accept that it may have, or may have not. I really don't know. Evolutionists however, 'religiously' deny that creation took place.

Being an engineer by profession and a software weenie at that (we tend to think very abstractly at times) I also have a great need to know how this all began. But I also realize that there are many things we don't have the capability to understand (yet).

Take this example (which is blatently wrong): In the schools we teach Catholicism to the exclusion of all other beliefs. In principle, how is this different than teaching evolution to the exclusion of other beliefs? Evolution is a belief not science. Anyone who belives it is science is wrong; there are too many questions and answers that do not coincide.

Like I said to Transplanted Lawyer in the past, we can talk when we get together. I don't expect to change your mind, but hopefully acknowledge that your beliefs may have some gaps in them, and that there is room for other beliefs.

Salsola said...

I doubt that Roosevelt believed that god would intervene on the battlefield to defeat our enemy.

I am confident he thought the prayer would make people feel better. Which is fine, our leaders should say things to make us feel better.

Orange Phantom said...

I forgot to mention previously;
If any posters would like to discuss in a friendly manner, Evolution vs Creationism, I would be open to that. We could do it by email or video-chat.

Erik can tell you how to contact me directly.

Burt Likko said...

Religion is typically defined as:

1. a set of beliefs concerning the cause, nature, and purpose of the universe, esp. when considered as the creation of a superhuman agency or agencies, usually involving devotional and ritual observances, and often containing a moral code governing the conduct of human affairs.
2. a specific fundamental set of beliefs and practices generally agreed upon by a number of persons or sects: the Christian religion; the Buddhist religion.
3. the body of persons adhering to a particular set of beliefs and practices: a world council of religions.
4. the life or state of a monk, nun, etc.: to enter religion.
5. the practice of religious beliefs; ritual observance of faith.
6. something one believes in and follows devotedly; a point or matter of ethics or conscience: to make a religion of fighting prejudice.

Evolution is none of these things. (One might believe in it devotedly, but not as a matter of ethics or conscience but rather as a matter of education and science.) Evolution is morally neutral, and it does not purport to explain the origin of life or the universe -- rather, it explains one aspect of life, the diversity of species.

I'm happy to open up a new thread for further discussion of the evolution v. creation debate, although this one seems to be working out well.

However, by OP's request, I've sent a message to his son (my cousin) Tony to forward on to you with my real e-mail address.

zzi said...

I doubt that Roosevelt believed that god would intervene on the battlefield to defeat our enemy.

Why because he went to Harvard and practiced law?