Afternoon InquisitionParentingReligion

Afternoon Inquisition 3.19

On Monday, a federal appeals court upheld a Texas law that requires public school students to observe a daily minute of silence.

The language of the law that was contested by a small group of Dallas area parents states that the minute is meant to allow students to “reflect, pray, meditate, or engage in any other silent activity that is not likely to interfere with or distract another student”.

The parents claim the law “does harm” to their children, and they maintain that including the word “pray” in the mandatory moment of silence is a way for lawmakers to advance religion in schools.

Do you agree with the court’s finding that the law is contitutional, or do you side with the parents bringing the suit? Do you see any benefits to having a minute of silence each morning in public schools? Any drawbacks?

Sam Ogden

Sam Ogden is a writer, beach bum, and songwriter living in Houston, Texas, but he may be found scratching himself at many points across the globe. Follow him on Twitter @SamOgden

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51 Comments

  1. My wife has been known to get down on her knees and pray for a moment of silence from me. More proof that prayer doesn’t work.


    No, a moment of silence isn’t nearly long enough for a secular purpose. If they had 10-15 minutes of silence that could be useful for meditation.

  2. I feel like these Moment of Silence laws are unconstitutional because there is no possible secular purpose for them. They are always just a wink and a nod to the religious. It makes it ok to make children pray silently even if you aren’t technically forcing them.

  3. Meditation(yoga, tai chi, etc) could be included as a part of PE. But meditation must be strictly secular and long enough to be worthwhile.

    Even meditation as described above is like an open invitation to have a religious teacher hijack it.

  4. @davew:

    No, a moment of silence isn’t nearly long enough for a secular purpose. If they had 10-15 minutes of silence that could be useful for meditation.

    When I was in school, I used to take nearly an hour of silence for myself everyday after lunch. My purpose wasn’t secular, it was napular.

  5. i’m w/ChaoSkeptic. look to the motive. the only reason for the moment of silence is to get prayer into school. there’s no other reason.

    and it is obvious to me that they don’t even care specifically about the prayer.

    think about it: how often each day do they want their kid praying? can’t the little bastard pray for a minute (or an hour) at home before and after school? or at lunch or the playground?

    this is just a wedge tactic to bring religion into the public forum. another dishonest tactic from our religious friends.

  6. My take is that the moment of silence is clearly a veneer pasted on prayer time. Any other activity like yogic meditation or anything eastern is every bit as much a woo filled spiritual religious type of practice.

  7. I say we ask for a required Moment of Chaos, where, for a minute, the students are encouraged to yell and scream loudly whatever comes to mind. Every student is completely absolved of any responsibility for anything they might say during that minute. Considering throughout the school day students are asked to be quiet and pay attention, this form of release would have great benefits for everyone. Any student can be quiet for a full minute and think or pray or whatever on his or her own time, but it would be fun and de-stressing to join everyone in school for authorized raucousness.

  8. @Procrustes:

    Considering throughout the school day students are asked to be quiet and pay attention, this form of release would have great benefits for everyone.

    I think you’re onto something. Might actually be cathartic.

    Now, if you could talk to my boss and see if we could implement that here at work, I’d appreciate it.

  9. @noisician: I completely agree. The kids won’t necessarily meditate, pray or reflect; they might use that time to think of whatever they wanted to, including videogames or their female classmates (at least that’s what any normal child would do). Unless you have a way to scan their minds (which God has, but we don’t), that’s simply a waste of time and actively encourages actual deviant behavior from the correct lessons that are otherwise taught (it would be like stopping to do the Good to “meditate” about how good we are).

    Also, you can meditate at home or on your way to school, there’s no need to lose valuable teaching time for that. Instead, tell priests at the churches to shut up and let people “meditate” instead, see what they think. After all, no better place to meditate than a church.

    Plain nonsense.

  10. As a youngster in the Philly public school system I was under the impression it was to give the teachers a minute break from the noise of unruly Philly public school kids. We just spent it making faces at each other trying to get someone else in trouble for laughing.

    When I moved to the sticks in 11th grade, I was surprised that this continued beyond elementary school and realized the moment of silence there was intended for prayer and I was expected to go along with it. It became yet another reason for my new classmates to vandalize my home and leave roadkill on my mailbox — all because I was reading my class notes instead of bowing my head. (And they didn’t appreciate me pointing out that whoever noticed couldn’t have been praying very intently themselves.)

    Starting off every day with what to me was the Minute of Hate did not help me adjust or make friends. It was used as a religious test. And if you failed, they ran you off the road after school and set your dad’s shed on fire.

    I skipped lunch every day after my first week and ate when I got home just to avoid being harassed in the cafeteria for not saying grace, and that’s not even school mandated prayer time.

    Anecdotal, I know, but that’s how I remind myself that this stuff matters. I wouldn’t want any kid to have to deal with what I faced at that school.

  11. You want your kids to pray or meditate or work crosswords for a minute a day? Fine by me, but why the fuck does that need to be during school hours? Why’s it need to be legislated into the school day? Do you not have a goddamn clock at home?

    Fuck, I’ve got a brilliant plan: I say we set up a National Egg Timer program so everybody can take care of forcing their kids to do pointless bullshit for an arbitrary span of time while they’re at home.

  12. @davew: COTW!!!

    I have to make a confession….I used to be pretty evangelical. I used to take my bible to school and read it. Other students would tell me I couldn’t have it out, and I would tell them the school couldn’t stop me. I participated in See You At the Pole, a gathering of students around the flagpole where we would join hands and pray. I went to bible study during lunch, I even gave one.

    Ok, now to the comment…Teachers can’t stop you from praying. They can’t stop you from reading your bible. There is no reason to have a MOS. When I had mine, it was 60 seconds long. I think since they can’t have prayer in school, they will have diet prayer. All the time of organized prayer, but none of the spoken words. If you wanted it to be fully equal, you would have to have several, at certain times of the day-the ones that line up with islamic prayer times, and last long enough for some meditation. So, as it stands, how would MOS benefit non-christian kids? Not enough time to do any work, can’t turn to mecca and pray.

    Face it, its Diet Prayer

  13. When my children come from school, I ask them what they learned that day. I also spend time helping them with their homework.

    I never ask if they got to have a few moments of silence or if they got to pray.

    That is because I send my children to school to learn. If I want them to sit silently I have them do that home. If I wanted them to pray, I would have them go to church or other religious institution.

    School is about learning. Church is about praying. The religious people need to get that straight.

  14. @James Fox
    Yoga is a physical practice with meditation. It is dressed up by ex hippies and easily woo-ed people in spiritual mumbo jumbo. But I can see it being a platform for the woo slippery slope just as a minute of silence is a wedge for Jesus.

    Unfortunate, because yoga is great physical exercise and meditation. Yoga needs to be saved from the woo. Might be a good subject for a blog.

  15. I went to a school that offered yoga as a course, under PE. I would also have religious discussions with very religious people. One of the people who I would talk to felt disgruntled about having yoga, because he felt it was relgious, since it talked about centering you…mantra…or chi…or something like that. I think when yoga is offered, proceed with EXTREME caution.

    But, if you can learn to slap people upside their head with your feet, I’m all for it.

  16. I believe that the law, on its face, is constitutional.

    From the interactions I have had with children, it is hard enough to obtain compliance when you are actively engaged with them one-on-one.

    To suspect that most children (any children?) are going to actually spontaneously burst into silent prayer for this minute may be a reach.

    Even if the teacher instructs them before each minute of silence that they may “… reflect, PRAY, meditate, or engage in any other silent activity that is not likely to interfere with or distract another student…” I suspect prayer compliance may be close to nil.

    Anything more by the school is going to be questioned by those who monitor these shenanigans, and that more could get them into trouble.

    As I think about it for more than the briefest of moments spent on this topic so far, it may actually be beneficial to children for them to try and be still for an entire minute!

    The hopes of the proponents of laws like this that children pray may be as misplaced as other beliefs they hold dear, and ultimately not that relevant to the constitutionality of the law.

    Not being a constitutional law scholar, I suspect that a law like this must pass the weakest of standards (which I forget at the moment).

    Y_S_G

  17. On the one hand, I want to say that a minute of silence isn’t going to hurt anyone. On the other hand, it’s obvious what this moment of silence is for – it’s for prayer.

    I mean, what if we had a moment of Facing The General Direction of Mecca?

  18. I don’t have a problem with a moment of silence. It exists outside of schools in the real world, and I don’t find it offensive but then again I don’t pray during one either. If you have a child in school you should monitor what is being done during this time. I would not be surprised if there are teachers out there who feel compeled to lead the class in prayer during this time. Or if your child is being harrased in some way for an obvious alck of participation in prayer. These examples would be inappropriate.

    However foolish I think it may be, there are those who believe in praying before any activity. As long as they respect mine or anyone elses wishes not to participate, I see no reason not to give them a moment to do so.

  19. @ The parents claim the law “does harm” to their children, and they maintain that including the word “pray” in the mandatory moment of silence is a way for lawmakers to advance religion in schools.

    They’re protecting their kids from hearing the word “prayer”? Overzealous types like this are just as bad as the fundies.

    Get a new hobby. I recommend Fucking Off.

  20. @jabell2r: I also understand those people’s need to pray: they may have to summon God to protect their heads from being filled with evil knowledge! :-D

    Now seriously, I wonder what exactly would be the reason for devoting whatever amount of school time for praying. I see the same reasons to do that as to devote time for playing football during the Math class, for instance. Would there be a “prayer” exam? Then, why does any praying take place inside the classroom?

    Religious children are encouraged to wake up 180 minutes earlier every day and use that time to pray until their brains explode if they want to, but BEFORE going to school. Or, the same way you can ask for permission to go to the toilet during the lesson, I’m sure children would also be allowed to leave their classrooms and pray if they felt a very strong need and asked their teacher to do so.

    What happens INSIDE the classroom MUST ONLY HAVE TO DO WITH TEACHING, as @larsenrogers: pointed out perfectly well. School’s for learning, not for “meditating”. Children can also “meditate” in the middle of the mess or during dinner at home if they hear the call of God. I’m sure God can wait until they leave the school.

    Utter nonsense.

  21. We had lots of MOS’s at my Catholic school back in the 70’s. They were some of the longest minutes of my life. How a person can be so bored in just one minute, I’ll never know, but they managed it. Still, not as agonising as Sunday Mass.

  22. While I don’t see anything wrong with having a minute of silence in school every day (probably a nice break for the teachers)…I don’t see why it should be required. I don’t think there should be a law saying that there MUST be a moment of silence in schools every day. Nobody is stopping anyone from praying or meditating in school, unless they are being really indiscreet about it during class time when they should be listening to the teacher (i.e. praying outloud, ohm-ing, etc). Praying or meditating during class is just as unacceptable as falling asleep or zoning out. Nobody can stop you from doing it, but you certainly won’t reap any benefits. Kids have recess and lunch periods in which they are free to do all the praying and meditating their little hearts desire.

  23. @infinitemonkey: I’ve been doing yoga for four years now, and I’ve never gotten to the “slapping people on the side of the head with your feet” pose. I wish I had!

    The first two or three sessions had intense mood effects – I felt wonderfully relaxed and at peace for about an hour afterwards. But now it’s just a very pleasant form of exercise.

  24. Oh, and as for the parents who think the MOS “does harm” to their children; I think they’re totally overreacting. This is not unconstitutional. Having a minute of silence every day can be beneficial…it can calm the kids down and make the teacher’s job a bit easier.

  25. The language looks to me like legal jargon, not something they would say in conversation. I doubt they would say it “does harm” to their children if you asked them what their problem was, they’d probably tell you it was prayer in disguise. “Does harm” looks like legal language, specific words put in because they’re challenging the legality of prayer in disguise, and the law requires that they prove that whatever they challenge “does harm” for their case to stand a chance. So, I wouldn’t judge them on that basis.

    As to the actual case, I don’t know that it’s illegal, or improper, but I’d be for getting rid of it, in almost any context. Public displays of religiosity make me want to gag, and being forced to participate in them makes me want to break things. It’s one of the biggest reasons I want out of the army yesterday.

    Whatever the stated purpose or technical status of it is, by all practical standards it’s a moment of prayer with a new name so that not only do they get to wave their pious dicks in the air, they then get to act self righteous and indignant that anyone would have the gall to ask them to PLEASE keep it in their pants, and quit trying to make me measure up, too.

    I like the FSM approach, make the same sort of appeal, from a non-christian perspective. I want a minute of yelling and screaming and banging rocks and pots and pans together to ward off whatever spirits, or non spirits, you think haunt my ball sack. You don’t have to scream and make a racket for any PARTICULAR religious purpose, it can be entirely secular yelling and breaking things, but I want my minute of precious class time, every day, and all the transitional time it takes to get to this state on either side of it, and the associated costs and opportunity costs and management overhead that could be spent on critical thinking, education, etc. to be spent on yelling. You don’t have to believe in ghosts that haunt my balls, but I want a minute to freely express it. Or a minute to face to the east. You can face to whatever thing in the east you like, it might be a religious thing, it might just HAPPEN to be Mecca or Medina, but it’s facing to the east for your choice of reasons.

    Or a moment of cruicifixion. It builds character.

  26. Here’s an idea; instead of having a Mandatory MoS during the school day, for one week, try having a voluntary MoS every day and see how many kids take advantage of it. If the majority ignore it and go on about there usual activity, majority rules! On the other hand, if the majority of the kids seem to find of value in some way, make it mandatory. Now remembering how I and all my friends were as kids, I’m willing to bet the title to my car that you won’t find more than a handful of schools in this entire country where this is important to the kids.
    The whole MoS thing is meant to comfort radical theological adults who want to find comfort that the children are being Properly indoctrinated.
    And by the way, I went to one school in Texas as a kid which had a mandatory MoS and I used the time to draw dirty cartoons :)

  27. @Merkuto: Bweee! COTW for Merkuto who just had me in stitches.

    Before my Skepcard is repo’d for the use of hyperbole, let me include the disclaimer that Merkuto’s words did not physically harm me in any way and I received no actual sutures from reading his comment.

  28. @Merkuto:

    I second the motion for COTW.

    AND the kitty made a valid point, the Church of the Flying Spaghetti monster should be given the same consideration for a moment of chaos, but completely secular of course. That could even be used as a moment of silence for the students that want to use it as such! They can just sit there and shut the fuck up while the rest of the world gets on without sky fairies.

  29. Seems like the MOS is an attempt to strike a compromise between the large group of people who are distraught over the movement to strip Christianity out of public sector life and the large group of people who favor a much stronger interpretation of the establishment clause.

    Since everyone is silent, there is no religious test involved (compelling everyone to say a prayer would constitute a religious test).

    At that age, I am sure I would have used the minute to obsess over some hot female schoolmate in tight jeans.

    /BCT

  30. Oh, I agree with most who say it probably is constitutional. On the other hand I’m not really sure why they really want the MOS in the first place. Unless…drum roll…the kids are slipping away from their religious endoctrination and need a daily booster shot.

    Let see, kids are in school for about 30 hours a week if memory is playing it safe. A week is approx 168 hours so kids’ time in school is about 17% of a week. Oh…ok, they sleep for say 56 hours of the week. So school makes up approx 26% of their waking week. In the other 82 waking hours one would think that would be enough for a proper inocculation, no?

    Could this be a sign that kids are failing to toe the line and this is needed to keep them from losing faith?

    Nahhh….It’s just a power play.

  31. When I went to grade school, we started every day saying the pledge of allegiance followed by the teacher reading from the bible and then saying a prayer in PUBLIC school (I am that old). Many times the section read concerned jesus especially near easter and Christmas. There were a couple of jewish kids and they had to listen to it plus be harassed by some kids for being different.

  32. From what I’ve read here, many of you are against MOS because school-time should be for learning. I get the feeling the your definition of “school subjects” may be too limited, however. Schools are also places to learn and practice good social skills, good citizen ship, and to extend the sense of a child’s place in a greater community.
    I believe a pedagological case could be made for fifteen minutes of silence as a daily excercise in self-control. Or fifteen minutes of directed introspection on things that make a child happy or that they like about themselves (a technique for fighting depression). Silence may be a perfectly legitimate skill to teach a child in school.
    I agree with some of the commenters when they say the MOS fails the smell test because a minute is too short for anything meaningful.

  33. I know that with my students, it would take about 15 minutes just to get them to all be silent in the first place. So while I’d love a minute of silence every day (minus legally-mandated prayer), it just wouldn’t be worth it.

  34. Here’s my thing: who brought this MoS into being in the first place? Somehow I doubt that a group of secular individuals initiated a MoS to allow their children time to reflect and calm themselves. So, given that it is likely that the persons bringing this about at the start were religious types, the original intent is in doubt.

    As some others have pointed out, is there anything keeping students from praying at any other time? I mean, you can pray between classes, at lunch, even IN class! Who can stop you from praying in class? Where does it say that prayer requires that everyone be silent? Is whatever god they are praying to hard of hearing? For me, this is clearly just a farce to reintroduce god into public school.

  35. It’s just a veiled “everyone should pray!” attempt. Period.

    And what of those who don’t want to pray, and instead read or something? They are now singled out, as someone above has already mentioned.

    If a child wants to pray silently, then he or she can find the time elsewhere. Hell, I will hide out in the bathroom stall for 10 minutes just to get some silence.

  36. Perhaps they should leave another minute for atheists and perhaps another for skeptics. Praying I suppose should be a freedom of choice exercise.

    I find myself and my kids together at home discussing these sort of things and trying to give an overall sample of all the different religions and anti-religions and general ordinary people thoughts. I hope I do okay!

  37. @marilove: I completely agree, and I further agree with all others who see this as yet another measure in disguise intended to pollute the public education system with an apparent unimportant measure.

    “Silence” seems to me to have little to do with “self-control”, if there’s a law who tells teachers and children to be silent. What’s that, “self-control by the government”? The only way it would start having to do with self-control would consist in the children’s being invited to be quiet while the teacher keeps giving the lesson as if nothing was happening. If the children spontaneously remained silent, that would amount to teaching self-control. If the teacher shuts up and, to that effect, you also tie the children’s hands and feet and turn off the lights, that’s not self-control, but exactly the opposite.

    Do children need silence? I am sure you can send them to their rooms to “meditate” for ten minutes instead of watching silly things on TV.

    And the most compelling argument: any parent is able to teach “silence”, you don’t have to waste some trained teacher’s valuable time for that. You need trained people to teach math or science. You can send the children to church to learn silence, if you get the priest to shut up. Or, if they want them to learn self-control, have them be quiet during a football match. THAT would be self-control!

    Why at school? What does silence have to do with Math, Language or Chemistry, rather than with the noise going on in any sports setting? Instead of “silence”, why doesn’t school focus on teaching children how to speak properly? Hold on!, I think that is the whole point of school. And that’s exactly the reason why some want that not to happen. For religion, education is a sin.

  38. I very much agree that the intention behind such a law is very clearly religious – and probably essentially Christian.

    However, the Constitutional principle separating church and state doesn’t require the government to forbid religion, only to avoid advancing or “sanctioning” one particular religion. Therefore, the judge made the right legal call: a law requiring a moment of silence that a child can use for any purpose that doesn’t distract others is well within the Constitution.

    Hell, atheist kids can use the minute to ponder the stupidity that religious zealots have wrought on our world.

    For those that think there’s a Constitutional issue here: whose rights are being trampled by this requirement? It’s silly, but it’s actually quite harmless.

    In fact, it’s probably very nice for the teacher, as a minute of silence would help tremendously with classroom behavior control and student focus. Perhaps not the intention, but still…

  39. remember – this is just a wedge tactic to bring religion into public school. nothing else. for this reason it should be thrown out.

    i have not heard any non-religious justification for MOS which would reasonably call for it to be mandatory.

    when teachers needs silence to control the class, they ask for it.

    now teachers who want to get right to THE TEACHING will be in danger of legal attack by religious nuts. it’s insane to add non-sense requirements onto the already heavy (but more reasonable) burden on teachers handed down by the gov’t (eg: student performance on standardized tests, etc.)

  40. Well, I actually am a lawyer *glances up at nickname* and I think the 5th Circuit made the right legal call here. Not suprisingly, the US Supreme Court has spoken several times about Establishment Clause issues. The case that provides the basic framework for analysis is called Lemon v. Kurtzman and has 3 prongs a law must pass to avoid being struck down as an establishment of religion: (1) the statute must have a secular legislative purpose; (2) its principal or primary effect must be one that neither advances nor inhibits religion; and (3) the statute must not foster an excessive government entanglement with religion. A group of smart people like you can probably immediately spot several instances of ambiguity and potential problems, but that’s the way SCOTUS rolls.

    In the purpose prong, it does not matter if the legislators who voted for the law had a religious purpose in their hearts. It doesn’t really matter if they gave speeches on the floor of the Legislature praising the “prayer in school act”. It doesn’t even matter if the purpose is a bad idea. What matters is whether the law advances some secular purpose. In this case, there are several possibilities, including those mentioned by previous commentors. The purpose prong is fulfilled.

    In the effect prong, what matters is what the statute says. In this case, it is facially neutral. It gives several options for what students may do during the moment of silence, including any silent non-disruptive activity that occurs to the student. On its face, this neither advances nor inhibits religion.

    In the entanglement prong, the courts are supposed to look for things like government overseeing religious activities or religious institutions overseeing governmental activities. In moment of silence cases, there are really no entanglement issues and this prong is rarely raised by plaintiffs.

    That’s really all there is when a statute is challenged on its face under the Establishment Clause. This statute, although we all know that it is a vehicle for praying in public schools, is constitutional on its face. However, this could lead to all kinds of as-applied challenges. That sort of case challenges the way that a governmental body carries out a statute. If, in fact, there is a situation such as the one that Eliza @12 found herself in or the possibilities mentioned by jabell2r @20, there may be something to an as-applied challenge.

    Leaving aside the legal issues, I think that such statutes should never be passed in the first place because prayer, meditation, etc. do not really belong in the school to start with. A student has ample time outside of the classroom to engage in whatever silent activities strike her fancy.

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