IN THEORY: Legislating silence gives one pause

Illinois state legislators reportedly reversed a law Tuesday that required students in Illinois schools to have a moment of silence to pray or reflect, after school administrators and teacher unions complained that the law was poorly thought out and could not be enforced. Proponents touted the fact that no one was forcing the students to pray — that it was simply a moment to reflect. Others saw it as a referendum on religion. And still others just didn't see it as a good use of classroom time.

What do you think? Is mandating such a law a good thing? Or, did legislators make the right move here in reversing it?

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Jesus said, “Let the children alone, and do not hinder them from coming to Me; for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these.” (Matthew 19:14, New American Standard Bible). This is divine wisdom for adults who possess authority in the kingdoms of Earth.

I suspect, on the basis of what the Illinois state Legislature actually proposed, that the objections to a few moments of quiet reflection are due to political considerations rather than practical or legal. How hard can it be to mandate and implement two minutes' silent reflection at the beginning of each school day? If two minutes' worth of class time is a “make it or break it” issue, then the Illinois legislature also needs to mandate more effective teaching methods. And this isn't a “separation of church and state” issue. Nobody is telling anyone to pray or worship.

If one major goal of education is to teach children how to be productive members of society, then what better way than to train them to take a little time each morning to think through what they need to accomplish? And children of faith, regardless of which faith it is, are going to use that time to ask God for help. That's their right as Americans.

PASTOR JON BARTA

Burbank

Valley Baptist Church

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Every once in a while I find an issue that I don't care much about, or my feelings about the issue could go either way. This mandated moment of silence is one of those issues. While it sounds like a good or even harmless idea at first, the moment of silence would, I believe, be impossible to enforce. And “enforce” is an interesting word to use when talking about silent prayer.

Before I felt called into the ministry, I was a school teacher. I have taught in a private preparatory school, a community college, and I even worked as a substitute teacher a few times, once in another state and once in the infamous Los Angeles Unified School District (I say “infamous” because substitutes in the district are regularly had for lunch by the students, and I was consumed more than once). A moment of silence in such a school system would, in my opinion, simply be a waste of time.

I guess I think the Illinois lawmakers did a good thing by reversing their original position. But if somebody wants to pray, please be my guest. Who says it has to be silent for one to offer up a plea or praise to God?

THE REV C. L. “SKIP” LINDEMAN

Congregational Church of the Lighted Window

United Church of Christ

La Cañada Flintridge

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When I was a kid I changed schools often because my postal inspector father was transferred often, and I cannot remember ever attending any of those many elementary schools that didn't begin with some moment of silent meditation. Nobody thought it difficult to enforce, nor was it considered a grievous waste of precious time. Official prayers were not said, nor were any religions promoted; we simply started the day with a minuscule amount of quiet time dedicated to whatever mental activity we wished.

The school library also imposed silence (all the time), yet nobody feared that, and every single day launched with the Pledge of Allegiance, a time well spent during a fully enforceable time slot. Only the Jehovah's Witness kids wouldn't stand for the pledge, and they weren't forced to, but the daily minute was definitely designated. America was happy.

Today's issue is not one of time, because it's barely any, and enforcement excuses are just that, because if teachers can't get students to pipe down for a few minutes, then they already have bigger problems. No, this situation is but a politically correct jostle to further placate the squeaky-wheeled, militant atheists.

Mandating a moment of silence could be an excellent means of fostering goodwill between the religious majority in this nation (who would cheer the fact that prayer in school is not persecuted, and would utilize the moment of silence for that purpose) and the progeny of faithless parents who could sit and collect their own private thoughts without divine considerations. Neither would have any personal imposition except the mutually shared allotted time, and wouldn't that be fair in our democratic environment of religious freedom? But atheists don't want cordiality; they want everyone to be as they are, godless. By the way, don't forget to wish them a happy holiday this April 1st.

THE REV. BRYAN GRIEM

Senior Pastor

Montrose Community Church

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I'm rather ambivalent about my feelings of prayer or lack of it in public schools.

I'm more concerned about the practice of prayer and communication of faith in the home. As pastor of a church with a parochial school, where prayer is part of the daily current of life, I realize if prayer and religious practice is not being modeled by the parents or adult figures in the house, there is little hope that the experience of prayer will be meaningful to the child at school.

At best, our role here is to support and build upon what the parents are teaching their children at home.

When there is little or no religious observance or prayer at home, the task of communicating the faith and teaching children to pray in a meaningful way is very difficult.

That being said, I find no harm in allowing a moment of silence for prayer or reflection. There is no endorsement of any religion or form of prayer. I hardly think of it as an abuse of classroom time when we are talking about 30 seconds or a minute at most.

If nothing else, a moment of silence could be a positive transition from the usual commotion before the bell into the agenda of the day.

FATHER PAUL J. HRUBY

Pastor

Church of the Incarnation

Glendale

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The Illinois State Congress voted to “give students a brief period of silent prayer or silent reflection on the anticipated activities of the day.” Originally a good idea to encourage faith practice in public school daily schedule, this law later brought about some challenges and questions.

How about a time for prayer and reflection for staff and parents as well? This would be a great start, but it isn't enough. Teaching children to reflect or pray is step one. Step two follows as the necessary result from this time of prayer or reflection.

Step two requires the inspired activation of step one. One must then effect action, not merely think about things. People already spend too much time thinking rather than doing.

Scientologists are proactive as individuals and as a church. We dream, postulate and plan. And then, beyond those contemplative moments, take action. It is true one must have a plan to achieve great progress, but then one must actually confront the scene and cause something to happen. L. Ron Hubbard wrote, “Spectatorism is very great in our modern society. Because some people cannot conceive of causing anything, they just watch it. They don't do anything. They are not participants. They are spectators .?.?. what we need are more participants, more teammates.”

Pause for a moment. Breathe. Remember to be an expression of the divine purpose of life. Then take action to make this world a better place.

CATHERINE EMRANI

Volunteer minister

Glendale Church of Scientology

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I find it quite ironic that school administrators and teachers unions would object to a simple moment of silence — since they are, after all, the parties primarily responsible for the many failing and miserably performing public schools across the nation.

It is often these individuals who impose all sorts of ludicrous regulations and misguided curriculum requirements on our children, yet when it comes to something as innocuous as a moment of silence, they bristle at the very notion.

The fact is that nobody is requiring students to pray. The time spent in silence is meant to provide a few moments for reflection and meditation on the important things in life. Children today are continuously exposed to frenetic activity as the pace of life grows ever faster; the anxiety that often results can harm a child's concentration and adversely affect his or her grades. Providing a moment of quiet can hopefully offset this trend, and by restoring a degree of calm we might promote academic progress and healthy introspection.

The reversal of the Illinois law requiring a moment of silence does great disservice to that state's student body. I am of the opinion that it is high time to reintroduce this positive practice in every public school in America. A moment of reflection is not a cure-all for the difficulties many school districts are experiencing, but it may be part of the solution.

Certainly it doesn't do any harm.

RABBI SIMCHA BACKMAN

Chabad Jewish Center

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It feels almost violating to think that an opportunity to reflect is so unwelcomed. We have no problem disciplining a child with a period of detention, that short timeout to reflect on what they've done. How about a bit of time to reflect and encourage growth?

Arguably, the entire education process, in and out of the classroom, is based on reflection. Learning is not merely receiving facts, but processing that information, and therefore, a reflective time is very conducive to the learning experience.

Much of the success of our particular parish in Glendale, the St. Peter Youth Ministries' Center is because it provides a sanctuary for children to enter and find solace. It is not uncommon to stop by after school and see students take a moment to stop, reflect, sometimes with a smile, sometimes with a tear and then move on with their day.

It's very shortsighted of educators to down a small amount of time for reflective purposes. Of course, the real problem seems to emanate from the use of the “P” word.

Once we talk about prayer, then we have issues that can be offensive both to religious and nonreligious people. Whose prayer? What prayer? But a moment of silence, left up to the child to use as he or she chooses should be part of the day's activities.

FATHER VAZKEN MOVSESIAN

Armenian Church Youth Ministries

In His Shoes Mission


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