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Espin01's avatar

Anyone living in Illinois with an opinion on the Moment of Silence legislation?

Asked by Espin01 (32points) October 15th, 2007

Effective today, every school in Illinois is required to have a moment of silence.
Students from kindergarten through high school will be allowed to silently pray in whatever faith they practice or simply sit and reflect quietly. Illinois teachers and students have had the option of doing so since 2002, but it wasn’t mandated.

The Illinois House voted to override Gov. Rod Blagojevich’s late August veto of the silent-moment measure. The governor cited concerns about the separation of church and state.
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Personally, I think this legislation is unfair to those students who do not practice any faith and does cross bounds in the context of separation of church and state. What do you think?

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13 Answers

dvchuck's avatar

In Indiana we have had the Pledge of Allegence followed by a moment of silence mandated by the State for the last 2 years.

It is my observation that every morning the students to through this ritual and are numb to the meaning. It has become meaningless.

hossman's avatar

And how, specifically, do you find it unfair to ask a student of any faith, or lack thereof, to briefly sit quietly? Is there some requirement I’m unaware of that every moment must be filled with noise? Or do you simply find it offensive that someone may choose to exercise their constitutionally guaranteed right to the free practice of religion in the same room with someone who chooses not to? Because I find a requirement that others NOT practice their religion to be an imposition of the religious beliefs of nonpractitioners upon others. It seems that many people mistakenly believe in a “state religion” of atheism.

As an Illinois resident, I don’t really find this legislation necessary, but I don’t have a problem with it if that is what the duly elected representatives of the voters have chosen, so long as no one is required to engage in a specific religious exercise. If your concern is that a teacher may step beyond a “moment of silence” to advocate a particular religious practice, I share that concern, but since a moment of silence is already permitted, that danger already exists.

We had a vigorous discussion of “separation of church and state” here:

The concept of “separation of church and state” does not appear anywhere in the U.S. Constitution. What does appear is the guarantee of the free practice of religion, not a guarantee of the absence of religion. What was prohibited is the government unfairly aiding a specific religion or denomination. Nowhere is there even a suggestion religion should not be present in government. In fact, there are numerous quotes from our Founding Fathers that discuss the importance of religion in government and public life. Many of the signers of the Constitution were ministers.

Since many taxpayers are religious practitioners, I find it oppressive and offensive to suggest that they and their children should not be permitted to silently pray while those who choose not to silently do something else. Perhaps it is time for those who choose not to practice religion publicly to stop imposing their views on others. Perhaps it is time for those of us who are practitioners of a faith to cease to permit discrimination and bigotry against us and to publicly assert our opinions as vehemently as others seem to be willing to do. As John Adams put it, our Constitution was made only for a moral and religious people. It is wholly unsuited to any other. Those who frequently quote Thomas Jefferson as holding the position religion should be barred from any involvement in government take his quotes out of context, and frequently ignore his many quotes to the contrary. Jefferson was opposed to government favoring any “state” religion, to the exclusion of others. He certainly did not find religious and moral practice antithetical to government, as he frequently cites God as the source of our inalienable rights. As to this particular issue, I believe Jefferson would find it harmless so long as no one’s beliefs were favored or discouraged, and I believe his quote most on point would be: “But it does me no injury for my neighbor to say there are twenty gods or no God. It neither picks my pocket nor breaks my leg.” Or also: “The legitimate powers of government extend to such acts only as are injurious to others.” I think he would find this legislation to be harmless, and thus not to be prohibited.

As a public school teacher myself, I wish the legislature would mandate, say, 20 minutes of student silence, we might get a lot more done.

ketoneus's avatar

I just don’t see why its needed. Why does the school have to provide time for kids to pray? Do the other 16 hours a day not work with God’s schedule?

omfgTALIjustIMDu's avatar

As a public high school student who was brought up in a conservative/orthodox Jewish household and does not believe in God, I would very much love to have a mandated moment of silence every day. Our schedules as students are extremely hectic and even though I would not use the time to pray, a moment of silence can do wonders for relaxation and just taking a minute to think about something important or reflect on something that happened that week, anything really, just some sort of “quiet time.”
For those who are religious and would like to have time to say a quick prayer to God, however, it is also great because not everybody can wake up even earlier to pray and they don’t want to talk with God in an environment that is more like a wrestling match than a church, and a moment of silence in school can offer that break from being around 1600 other screaming and jostling teenagers to speak with God and feel better about themselves.

hossman's avatar

I caught a fellow law student on our way into taking the bar exam quietly talking to himself. As he had repeatedly professed atheism, after the bar exam, I asked him politely if he had found the need for prayer. He said something to the effect that “there were no atheists in the bar exam” and “he didn’t know whether it helped, but it couldn’t hurt.”

I should add that I was substitute teaching for the first time last Friday. As they do not tell you what subject you will be teaching ahead of time (and boy, is that a way to guarantee a quality educational experience) I discovered an hour before school started the teacher had a lecture scheduled in calculus on imaginary numbers and rational zeros. Having forgotten almost everything of my last calculus class in 1984, I was busy reteaching myself and getting ready, taking attendance, etc. at the beginning of class. Several minutes into class, I realized the TV in the classroom had turned itself on and was just winding up displaying an American flag and scrolling up the last few words of the “Pledge of Allegiance.” I was unaware this was a part of the class schedule. Evidently, this particular class must completely ignore this, as none of the students made any effort to quiet down, etc. If I had been aware of this, I would have asked them to be quiet, and I myself would have stood and recited the Pledge of Allegiance as a show of respect and citizenship. As evidently classes are ignoring the Pledge (does anyone know if Illinois requires this in a high school classroom?) I doubt mandating a moment of silence is going to be disrupting any atheists, agnostics, etc. from enjoying a quiet moment of personal meditation, in fact, I doubt the moment of silence will occur.

And I certainly hope the legislature is going to give me some guidance on what I’m supposed to do as a teacher. Do I inform the students they are free to pray, meditate, do deep breathing, have a quietly personal sex fantasy, what? How long is a moment of silence? After all, I wouldn’t wish to be accused of not providing equal opportunity for a member of a particularly long-winded faith. And what of a religion that cannot worship quietly, say a devout Buddhist atonal chanter? Am I, the free-lance Protestant that I am, infringing upon the rights of or unduly influencing students if I decide to augment the experience by playing a recording of a few Gregorian chants in Latin?

susanc's avatar

Was going to say some appreciative things about all the above but instead am providing myself and the rest of you flutheristas with a moment of silence. Here goes:

GD_Kimble's avatar

My problem with this is and always will be the “state mandated” part. Again we’re running into the old Spirit of the Law v. The Letter of the Law problem. I think we all have to agree that despite no specific language indicating so, this ruling is clearly designed to let kids pray in school. The suggestion that Illinois lawmakers are actually concerned one way or another about a non-specific, reflective moment of silence is completely disingenuous, and yet another case of neo-cons trying to slip one past the goalie.
It should be noted, however, that kids can pray in school ANYWAY. We went through all this a few years ago (in the midst of the political correctness panic of the latter Clinton years) when school boards were going too far in the other direction and were banning kids from praying of their own volition.
Under the law, anyone who wishes to pray in school certainly can ON THEIR OWN TIME. Use as an example, Hossman’s anecdote about the law student praying before an exam. Anyone who wishes to start of the day by entering a classroom, hitting their knees and sending up a few words to the Man upstairs: All the power to them. I will defend with both fists their right to do so. What’s happening here, though, is a different thing. When a specific block of time set aside and this mysterious “moment of silence” is being enforced, what the lawmakers are very subtly mandating is “fellowship” which just comes back to the origianl point:
I think this ruling is another attempt to bend separation of church and state without breaking it.

gailcalled's avatar

At Quaker (aka Friends’) schools, silence is incorporated into life. It is wonderful. No one interrups,all are taught to listeni w. respect; and waiting a tad does not interfere w spirited debate. Every Thursday for one period there is an official Meeting for Worship.

Several hundred kids and teachers sit in a plain room on hard benches in silence. No one checks what the thoughts are. Occasionally, if one is so moved, s/he can stand up and say something. At times the entire period passes in silence and at others, there is some speech. It is calming and restorative for people of all faiths.

And to watch 400 kids from K-6 sit quietly for 45 minutes is a little miracle.


GD_Kimble's avatar

I should note, by the way, that I don’t live in Illinois.

Espin01's avatar

@dvchuck: Ah, but therein lies the problem – Everyone is silent, including the teacher, and there is no work to be done, you must sit quietly and pray. That is why. And as for why it is unfair, it is because it forces pressure on atheist/agnostic students by their peers who have a faith to pray or believe in something they do not wish to believe in.

hossman's avatar

I agree with GD Kimble that the intent is pretty clear here, and part of what is motivating it is that the U.S. Supreme Court has refused to hear cases seeking to prohibit mandated “moments of silence,” thus implicitly approving mandated moments of silence. I also love the Quaker tradition of silence (do they ever engage in the Quaker tradition of “quaking,” gail, or has that gone by the wayside?). I find silence to be an extremely valuable aid to thought.

Also, in general, I have a real problem with the state or federal government mandating anything in schools. I generally adhere to the principal that government should be as local as possible, as it is much easier for parents to vote out a school board than to vote out a state legislator or U.S. Congresscritter. If you don’t like what your local school is doing, then get on the board, vote out the board, or move. Of course, if you say the state shouldn’t mandate a moment of silence, then the state shouldn’t mandate curriculum, which would include the question of whether or not to teach sex ed, intelligent design, etc.

I politely disagree with Espin01’s post immediately above, which seems to insist upon ignoring the point that nothing is mandated of the students during the moment of silence, other than to be silent. They are free to pray, or meditate, or worship Satan, or think about dating that hottie next to them, or contemplate the wisdom of Mao. I would imagine many of the teachers will NOT be praying (and some will probably have some negative comments introducing the new “moment of silence,” and neither will many of the students. In fact, in many of the classrooms, those NOT praying will probably be in the majority, so I can see having the opinion this legislation is a waste of time (it probably is) and simply to please their constituency (it probably is, which suggests far more voters are religious than any poll wants to admit), but to find it unfair makes me question the neutrality of how you define “fair.” How, given the article linked to, can you say “you must sit quietly and pray.” Nowhere is that said in the legislation, or the article to which you link. Atheist/agnostic students do not have a right to not be exposed to the potential of someone praying near them. They do not have a right to never be exposed to a contrary viewpoint (although they do have a right to not have the school sanction a particular viewpoint, INCLUDING ATHEISM AND AGNOSTICISM). Atheist/agnostic students do not have the right to impose their lack of religious practice on others. If they do not wish to pray, they simply do not do so. It seems you may have some sort of fear that nonreligious students may independently make up their mind to explore religion, which they do have a right to do. I agree with Thomas Jefferson that a necessary part of education includes questioning whether God exists. That includes the corollary that a necessary part of education is the freedom to conclude He does. If you think somehow religious students are out there forcing other students to pray, I don’t think you’ve been in a public school recently. While you may wish religion would just go away, you don’t have a right to require that. As a real world practicality, I’m betting a very high percentage of public school teachers (and I am one), regardless of their religious practice, will be spending that moment of silence taking attendance. If you are concerned some teachers will take this as an opportunity to promote religion, I am concerned as well some teachers will take this as an opportunity to denigrate religion.

My opinion of atheism and agnosticism is the same as my opinion of Christianity, Judaism, Islam, or any other religion. If you are confident in what you believe, you should not fear a free marketplace of ideas. If you feel you need to silence other opinions, you might not be sure of the strength of your own.

gailcalled's avatar

@Hoss: the northeastern branch of the Society of Friends is less conservative than the mid-west ones. I have never seen anyone quake, but there was still a lot of interfamial “thee, ”“thou,” and “thine.” It was endearing but a little exclusive.

The mid-west branches of Quakers also talk about Jesus as the son of God, I believe. In the more sophisticated communities around Philly, Baltimore, DC, Durham, parts of NJ, the only creed was that there is a bit of G*d (and one could form one’s private definition) in all of us, and that all conflict can and should be resolved non-violently. That is not to say everyone was simpleminded and in lockstep, but the basic premises were clear and part of daily life.

I arrived at my Quaker school community as a flashy New Yorker, in make-up, contacts, hot pants and a yard of hair in 1972. I soon got gently “eldered” and toned myself down, which was a good thing.The contacts were starting to irritate my eyes, anyway.

Aside: speaking of eyes, may I plead for more paragraphs or breaks?

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