Will Okun: Disguised Silence

Posted by Kendall Harmon

When is silence not golden?

Last Thursday, Illinois lawmakers passed legislation that requires all public schools to provide students with a moment of silence at the beginning of the school day.
And, pray tell, how do you think the students are to utilize this moment of silence?

Mandated silent prayer in the public schools? No, of course not, that would be illegal. Instead supporters claim the students can use this moment of silence as either an opportunity for silent prayer or “for silent reflection on the anticipated activities of the day.”


Read it all.

Filed under: * Culture-WatchEducationLaw & Legal IssuesReligion & Culture

Posted October 23, 2007 at 6:46 am [Printer Friendly] [Print w/ comments]

1. DonGander wrote:

The whole problem of Federal schools is that so much of what would be good education has been gutted and replaced by the vacuous. The article demonstrates that quite well.

October 23, 8:18 am | [comment link]
2. Ed the Roman wrote:

This is a carefully crafted move by the Legislature to quietly thrust a thumb in the eye of late 2oth century jurisprudence.  Good for them.

October 23, 8:23 am | [comment link]
3. Steve Cavanaugh wrote:

We have had a moment of silence at the beginning of the day here in Massachusetts for a very long time. It was certainly observed when I was in high school (granted that’s a few years ago).
Of course, a daily reading from the Bible is still on the law books here too smile

October 23, 8:57 am | [comment link]
4. justinmartyr wrote:

We’re hypocrites. We wouldn’t want another religion to force prayer or bible reading on our kids with our tax money, but we still think it’s a good idea to force our religion into the public school schedule (okay, you can opt out, but you’ll darn well sit silently while we do our thing on your dime). I’ve said it for years, the only fair resolution to this controversy is privatized schools for ALL. Complete tax refunds would fund most kids, and the others should be provided for by charities and religious organizations. Church used to be about caring for the poor and elderly, healing the sick, and educating the young. Now we just sit in our pews and sing hymns. And we wonder why our faith is inconsequential.

October 23, 10:22 am | [comment link]
5. DonGander wrote:

4. justinmartyr:

I disagree with your opening. Schools should be about truth and charactor developement. When I was in public school we studied other religions. My radically conservative parents had no problem with that. We also very occassionally prayed in school to the God who is self-evident and self-revealed. I’d say that if there were striking evidence that Buda was the true God I would want my progeny to pray to him in schools. Having been a Christian for 50 years and seeing most every arguement available, I have no such expectation.

Now, as federal schools have absolutely no intention of pursuing truth, I agree wholeheartedly with your conclusion.

October 23, 10:34 am | [comment link]
6. Steve Cavanaugh wrote:

Church used to be about caring for the poor and elderly, healing the sick, and educating the young. Now we just sit in our pews and sing hymns. And we wonder why our faith is inconsequential.

Gee, what church are you going to, Justin? I see apostolic works going on all around me; in fact, most of the work for the poor is church-sponsored in my area; and especially if folks don’t have the sense to have problems only from 9 to 5 Monday through Friday, outside of which the gov’t “charities” close up shop. It’s the St. Vincent de Paul Society, Salvation Army, soup kitchens run out of church basements, etc., that keep things going 24/7.

As for “fair” meaning “everyone gets treated exactly the same”, which your post implies, I’d say that’s not a good definition of fair. If schools were as fair as they used to be, they’d continue practices from earlier days like letting the kids out early every Wednesday so they could go to religious instruction at their respective institutions (or just get the afternoon off if they didn’t belong to such). That neither forces everyone to do the same thing, nor does it pretend there aren’t differences between them. Making everyone behave in a publicly-funded situation as if they were atheists is neither fair nor constitutional.

October 23, 10:50 am | [comment link]
7. justinmartyr wrote:

Wow, I hit a nerve.

A little bit of religious instruction is, as Chesterton says, just enough to inoculate one against further inquiry. Having grown up in a country where we had daily Christian prayer and weekly Religious Instruction, it become pretty obvious that the greatest religion killer was not a virulent atheist, but a teacher whose job required him to recite the Lord’s Prayer but didn’t care whether it was true or not. I agree Don, schools are about teaching the truth, and the greatest truth is Jesus. Traditional catholic teaching forbids sex without the possibility of procreation, and yet we’re okay with teaching truth void of all Truth. Something’s not logical here.

Steve, I’m glad your church works with the poor. I commend you for this. I have to say that what you say is atypical for most Western Christians. Most Christians go to church to sing choruses and be entertained, period. We build pretty buildings with magnificent stained-glass windows instead of hospitals and schools. I speak from experience in England, South Africa, Israel, and now the US. The Church has for the large part abandoned its role as the Hospital, School, and University of the world, and we’re suffering the consequences. The addicts, homeless and destitute come into my ER daily not because they prefer a secular hospital, but because they have been abandoned by those who were commanded to care for them. If I’m wrong, please explain to me why most inner city families send their kids to dangerous, destructive public schools? Perhaps they prefer them to those prestigious parochial schools inviting them with open arms?

“Making everyone behave in a publicly-funded situation as if they were atheists is neither fair nor constitutional.”

You’re right. And spending the tax money of atheists on Christian or “moral,” or “creationist” education is hypocritical. As a stop gap, I like your idea of letting children out to attend religious instruction at private institutions. Children would benefit still more from the alternative of a non-forced Truth-infused daily education. We suffer from an invalid dichotomy of morality and religion, the product of violently separating the two.

October 23, 11:30 am | [comment link]
8. Steve Cavanaugh wrote:

If I’m wrong, please explain to me why most inner city families send their kids to dangerous, destructive public schools? Perhaps they prefer them to those prestigious parochial schools inviting them with open arms?

Well, here in the States, there’re a few reasons that most inner city families send their kids to public schools vs. parochial schools. One is that the parochial schools are too expensive: that’s because so many of the religious in the late 60s and 70s decided it would be better to do the work of the laity in “getting out in the world” and abandoned the schools and the students for the sake of which their communities had been founded. And since then, churches haven’t had the sense to figure out that all those empty convents could still house teachers, if they would just give them for free to lay teachers who signed contracts: that would allow the more modest salaries parochial schools need to pay, while compensating teachers. (Many hospitals do this for their nursing staff—the Brockton Hospital near my house has this type of housing for nurses.) And with the cost of housing in our cities often being the biggest expense a new college grad could have, that would be a big incentive. Of course, imbuing teacher training with a truly apostolic bent in our Catholic/Chrisitian colleges wouldn’t hurt things.
The gov’t is also paranoid about letting parents make decisions about where their kids can go to school. Giving vouchers that can be used anywhere that the parents/students choose would allow parents and students to vote with their feet. If they do choose a religiious school, so what?  In Vermont, where I lived for a while, most towns didn’t have high schools, so the school board in most towns allowed the students to choose their high school, and the school board paid the tuition to that school (religious schools weren’t allowed, however).
Of course, another reason that inner city families cannot afford parochial schools is that most inner city families do not have two parents in the home. Where there are two parents, married to each other, poverty rates are lower. When I lived in Wilmington, Delaware (like you, JustinM, I moved around a lot wink ) I taught for one year in St. Peter’s Cathedral school, whose school population was 95% black, most of whom were not Catholic. But many families had had students in the school for generations; and a higher percentage of those families were of the two parent married to each other variety.
I don’t think that building beautiful buildings, spending time on music, art, etc. need detract from care for the poor. I’m happy to do both (singing in a schola as well as serving food up) and I’m hardly alone in this. Wasn’t this a feature of the Anglo-Catholic priests in England in the mid- to late-19th century? But the incessant navel gazing and intramural fighting that both the Western Church has engaged in for the past 40 years is destructive. The problem all too often in our contemporary Church is that we think we need to write a new mission statement, but it’s already been written. The Gospel is sufficient.

October 23, 12:46 pm | [comment link]
9. justinmartyr wrote:

Amen, Steve. I fully agree. The kind of teaching/mentoring you have done is invaluable and highly commendable.

October 23, 1:35 pm | [comment link]
10. Christopher Hathaway wrote:

I like the idea of letting children out in the afternoon to get religious instruction of their parents choice. Those who want atheistic instruction could get that as well. All the students would be better off spending less time in the useless public school system anyways. Maybe some of those kids who don’t get religious instruction could do some work, earn some money, something to teach them not to be layabouts.

October 23, 6:48 pm | [comment link]
11. Bob from Boone wrote:

Moments of silence have already been ruled out of bounds by the courts because their intent is clearly for state-sponsored religious purposes. If this one is challenged, it will probably be ruled unconstitutional. There are plenty of opportunities during the school day for students either to individually pray silently or quietly in small groups, or reflect on their lives or what they need to do for the day without having the time mandated by the state. Legislators have more important things to do with their time than play games with the public and the courts.

October 23, 9:52 pm | [comment link]
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