Friday, October 12, 2007

A Moderate Moment

Illinois's legislature, overriding the state Governor's veto, has mandated a moment of silence at the start of the school day. Naturally, some people are upset that that new law is "a way to sneak state-sanctioned prayer back into public schools."

Liberals need to take a break from indignation now and then. Sure, the lawmakers are hoping that students will use the moment of silence to pray. Apparently the law even says that the moment is for "silent prayer or for silent reflection on the anticipated activities of the day." So I don't think there's much doubt about the purpose.

But so what? No one is forcing anyone to pray. Students can silently pray at any time, with or without this law. Students are required to be silent at lots of time during the school day -- when the teacher is trying to teach the class, just for example -- so there can hardly be anything unconstitutional about requiring student silence.

Sometimes you just have to accept that something is a perfectly legal work-around even though you don't like the underlying purpose and something slightly different would be unconstitutional. The unconstitutional aspect of school prayer is the state sponsorship inherent in teacher involvement. Just having everyone be silent for a few moments, with no one saying what to do during that time, is fine. Religious students can pray; others can focus their energies on the upcoming day or even think about something funny or mischevous. This isn't a problem.

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