Moment of Silence
by John E. Bonfadini, Ed.D.,
Professor Emeritus, George Mason University
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?
to Jesus (6%)
Moment of silence (53%)
Prayer that refers to God but no specific religion
Avoid all of these (19%)
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
This theologically intense speech is acknowledged as
one of the most remarkable in American history.
The last part of Lincoln’s second inaugural address
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
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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
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
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.