The Illinois legislature recently passed a law requiring all schools to observe a moment of silence. The law had been previously vetoed by the governor, but the Illinois House and Senate overrode the veto. I have a lot of problems with this, beyond it being a way for the religious right to sneak mandatory prayer into schools.
First and foremost is a problem of enforcement. How do you make a child observe a moment of silence, be it to sit and reflect or to pray? Are schools supposed to hand out detentions for students who talk or move around? What are we supposed to do when students who do pray start complaining that other kids aren’t being quiet enough during their legal time to pray?
Furthermore, how about schools who don’t observe? Right now, two buildings in my district have put the moment of silence in place, but the third has not because the administration disagrees with the law. Do you throw the principal in jail? Fine him or the school?
The moment of silence in the buildings observing it is ten seconds long. I don’t pray, but I have to wonder, is that really long enough? It seems to me you’re not getting much out. Maybe a Catholic prayer from rote, like an Our Father, will fit in 10 seconds, but how many people really feel a connection with their deity of choice by mumbling out a few sentences?
Let’s look at it from another religious standpoint: is this now the only time a child can pray? How many people will take it to the opposite extreme and restrict prayer at other times, whether out of spite or out of being a stickler for the law?
The long and the short of it is I really don’t understand why this has to become a law, especially since they state already guaranteed schools the option of holding a moment of silence in 2002. It’s taking time away from real issues (such as the state budget), it’s not going to do anything but stir up controversy, and it’s only a matter of time before someone takes it to court. It’s just another case of the squeaky wheel getting the grease.
If a child wants to pray at school, they’re going to. I live in a religious community, and there’s a large group that has shown up for See You at the Pole every year I’ve been here (and it’s held on school property, no less). Last year’s graduation ceremony opened with an invocation, and at events like the staff Christmas dinner or the school board dinner before school begins, someone says a prayer before we eat. If our students want to sneak in a prayer, they’ve got recesses and study halls, passing periods, quiet moments in class, rides or walks to and from school, and their lunch hour. If there are staff members who want to pray, they’ve got prep time and lunch as well.
How is ten seconds at the beginning of the day going to change anything? If a school or community were that worried about it, they would have already put the moment of silence in place.