Food For Thought

A Moment of Silence
by John E. Bonfadini, Ed.D.,
Contributing Columnist
Professor Emeritus, George Mason University

John E. Bonfadini
John E. Bonfadini

Stop!!! Wait one minute in silence before continuing to read this article. What did you think about? Did you think about your job or family? What about your own well-being? Were the tasks of the day your main focus? How about prayer, did you take time out to pray? The options to choose from are infinite and without some direction or guidance, most of us would be all over the thought spectrum.

Most Americans believe that religion contributes to the moral and behavioral development of all citizens. Some controversy exists over the role of religion in the public schools, but most support the notion that religion should be a visible part of a child’s education. Legislatures throughout the country are looking for an acceptable way to introduce more religion into the schools without violating the constitutional mandate of separation of church and state. Few believe that going back to the days of Bible reading before each new day is the right alternative. Most are searching for a better method of keeping kids mindful that we answer to a higher power. One possible solution receiving significant public support is starting each new school day with a moment of silence.

Research on School Prayer

How should the public schools deal with the issue of prayer in the classroom?
Christian prayer
 to Jesus (6%)
Moment of silence (53%)
Prayer that refers to God but no specific religion (20%)
Avoid all of these (19%)
Don’t
know
(2%)

Public Agenda Online (Web site: www.publicagenda.org) did a comprehensive research survey titled “For Goodness’ Sake” that showed how Americans feel about religion and its role in American life. When asked about the school prayer issue respondents indicated a preference for “moment of silence” versus other options. The chart illustrates how the general public responded to the question: How should the public schools deal with the issue of prayer in the classroom?

I would encourage readers to review the entire survey at the Web site listed.

Challenges to the Concept

This year public school students in Virginia will be required to observe a moment of silence before beginning the school day. Several legal challenges to the “silence statute” are now working their way through the courts. Challengers claim that the “moment of silence” effort is a back-door way of introducing prayer into the classroom. The challengers hypothetically envision teacher instructions mentioning the word prayer as one of the meditation options, in violation of the constitution’s freedom-of-religion statute. It will be interesting to see how the moment-of-silence issue plays out in the higher courts, but for now, all kids in public schools will have the opportunity to reflect on something each morning before attending classes.

My personal opinion is that no true effect will result from a moment of silence unless it is accompanied with some form of guidance or direction. Certainly our rich history gives us many possible ideas upon which to meditate and give thanks.

Why I Support the Concept

I spent some time trying to find the right words to explain why I support the concept of a “moment of silence,” and in some cases prayer, as a part of the school day. My academic background just couldn’t provide the answer. So I took a break from writing this article. Our two older grandchildren were visiting from Florida on Labor Day and wanted to take a brief visit to Washington, DC, to see the Mall. It was there that I found the answer to why I support the concept of a moment of silence. As we walked by the Vietnam Memorial Wall and saw the names of dedicated Americans who gave their lives so that my grandkids could enjoy this sunny day, I thought, “That’s certainly one reason for a moment of silence or prayer.” We proceeded to the Lincoln Memorial after taking time to explain to the grandkids a brief history of the Wall. It was here that I found the true explanation for my belief in the need to include religion as a part of public education. There on the right side of the majestic statue of Lincoln are the words of his second inaugural address. One cannot read these words without becoming emotionally involved.

This theologically intense speech is acknowledged as one of the most remarkable in American history.

The last part of Lincoln’s second inaugural address states:

What’s Your View?

Obviously, there are at least two sides to every issue. Do you have a different view? This column is meant to provoke thought, so keep sending comments. Each one is read with the utmost interest. Send e-mail to: jbonfadi@gmu.edu, or send written responses to the editor.  Mail will be forwarded to the author.

Both read the same Bible, and pray to the same God; and each invokes His aid against the other. It may seem strange that any men should dare to ask a just God’s assistance in wringing their bread from the sweat of other men’s faces; but let us judge not that we be not judged. The prayers of both could not be answered; that of neither has been answered fully. The Almighty has his own purposes. “Woe unto the world because of offenses! for it must needs be that offenses come; but woe to that man by whom the offense cometh!” If we shall suppose that American Slavery is one of those offenses which, in the providence of God, must needs come, but which, having continued through His appointed time, He now wills to remove, and that He gives to both North and South, this terrible war, as the woe due to those by whom the offense came, shall we discern therein any departure from those divine attributes which the believers in a Living God always ascribe to Him? Fondly do we hope — fervently do we pray — that this mighty scourge of war may speedily pass away. Yet, if God wills that it continue, until all the wealth piled by the bond-man’s two hundred and fifty years of unrequited toil shall be sunk, and until every drop of blood drawn with the lash, shall be paid by another drawn with the sword, as was said three thousand years ago, so still it must be said “the judgments of the Lord, are true and righteous altogether.”

With malice toward none; with charity for all; with firmness in the right, as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in; to bind up the nation’s wounds; to care for him who shall have borne the battle, and for his widow, and his orphan — to do all which may achieve and cherish a just and lasting peace, among ourselves, and with all nations.

Remove the references to God and a higher power from Lincoln’s speech and it would become a hollow document. Remove the references to God and a higher power from the public schools and you end up with a hollow education.

Footnote: My article was written and submitted for publication 10 days before the recent disastrous attacks on the citizens of the United States. Asking students to give a moment of silence in remembrance of those who gave their lives is an appropriate way to begin each day of this school year. God Bless America.

 

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