A state judge recently ruled that an Illinois law mandating a moment of silence in public schools is a violation of the separation of church and state. I applaud the decision.
Prayer is an important part of a spiritual life, and I wish that more children had a regular prayer life. Heck, I wish that I had a more regular prayer life. I do not, however, feel that it is appropriate for a public school to have a time set aside for “prayer and reflection.”
Students should be allowed to pray in school, and unless school has changed a lot since I was there (which it probably has), there are plenty of times when a student can engage a prayer life. Saying a small grace before lunch, saying a prayer of thanksgiving during recess, praying for guidance before a quiz or a test, or getting to school early to pray before class starts, or on the bus ride, or while a teacher hands out worksheets – all of these times are perfect opportunities for anyone to pray.
A mandated moment of silence for prayer and reflection, however, is not. I even believe that a moment of silence is a good thing. Allowing kids to take a few moments to pause, allow their brain to slow down, or even wander periodically during the day is a good thing. Most brain studies have shown that the brain needs rest too. If the law had simply required a “a moment of silence,” that might have been okay, but I’m not sure that is matter of state lawmakers to decide. Every teacher should allow their students moments of silence, with or without a state law.
I have nothing against prayer in school, I have nothing against moments of silence in school. In fact, I am a proponent of both. What I am against is the government mandating either. School teachers are trained to teach academics – math, reading, writing, music, art, physical education. They should not be teaching their spiritual practices or their religious beliefs. Do their religious beliefs inform their teaching? Of course, but I do not want my daughter to be taught how to pray at school.
That is what church is for. Separation of Church and State should be something that all religious people should demand, because I do not want the government telling me how and when I can or should worship and pray. When the government starts mandating religious doctrine, it will inevitably be dumbed-down, watered down civic religion that replaces country with God.
I am all for prayer in school. Students and teacher should be allowed to pray as much or as little as they want, but a school is not a house of prayer.
For those that are outraged because their child has been deprived of a moment of silence, I suggest that instead you take this as an opportunity to pray with your child – today – right when they get home from school, and again before dinner, and again before you go to bed, and again when you wake up in the morning. Pray at home, pray at church, and even teach your child the right times to pray at school. We cannot get enough prayer in our lives, and in our world. Pray without ceasing. Please, do not ask our government to tell us when to pray. It’s just un-American.