Moment of silence never hurt anyone

Published 5:00 am Friday, September 8, 2000

For those seeking some kind of middle ground in the separationof church and state debate, a small ray of hope shined earlier thisweek in a Virginia federal appeals court courtroom

For those seeking some kind of middle ground in the separationof church and state debate, a small ray of hope shined earlier thisweek in a Virginia federal appeals court courtroom.

The court, in a 2-1 decision, refused to issue an injunctionagainst a state law requiring students to observe a minute ofsilence at the start of their school day. The decision came in alawsuit filed by the ACLU on behalf of eight students who claimedthe quiet time violated their First Amendment rights.

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Please tell me how everybody zipping their lips at one timeviolates anybody’s rights.

Nobody’s supposed to be talking, so no one should be saying orhearing anything offensive. The only words over the public addresssystem should be “thank you,” “go to class,” or something like thatwhen the minute is up.

But Kent Willis, executive director of the ACLU in Virginia,sees it otherwise.

”Our argument . . . was that there is potential forconsiderable harm to take place while the minute of silence law isintact,” Willis told the Associated Press. ”For those whopractice a minority religion, or no religion at all, this is likelyto be an ostracizing experience.”

Harm? ostracizing experience? Give me a break.

Nowhere have I seen it said that a minute of silence requiresall students to bow their heads and pray to the same higher power,or any higher power for that matter. It just says that all studentsare supposed to be quiet for 60 seconds.

While Christian students will likely pray silently to God,others are free to do as they please.

They can meditate, ponder the meaning of life, think about howto ask the little red headed girl out, or even scratch some itchthat’s been bugging them since the bus ride. It doesn’t matter aslong as it’s done in silence.

The Supreme Court has banned use of public address systems tobroadcast student-led or any kinds of prayer at high school games.While in one sense I don’t like the ruling, I have to go along withit because the Constitution says the rights of all people –Christians, Muslims, Buddhists, those of other religions and evenatheists — must be protected.

Being from and living in the Bible Belt South, where Protestantsare in the majority, it’s easy to have the opinion that prayershould be allowed in schools, at football games and at similarevents. Many people you meet likely have the same or similaropinion.

But go where populations and religions are more diverse and thesituation changes.

At least in some small part, taxpayer money — regardless ofreligion — goes to pay the electricity bill on the public addresssystem. Therefore, one religion can’t have preference overanother.

A California Christian wouldn’t want to pay to hear a prayer toAllah any more than a Mississippi Muslim would want to pay to hearone to God.

Laws and conflicting public sentiments put school officials in adifficult position.

Allotting public address time for each religion’s ornon-religion’s representative to speak before the game is certainlyimpractical. And going straight from the National Anthem to kickoff, with no time to express concerns about players’ health orother issues, could upset some people.

The Lord’s Prayer suggestion is a good idea, but it must beorganized and carried out on a non school-related basis. The prayerat a recent Texas high school football game had low participationand was drowned out by the P.A. system.

It seems to me a minute of silence is the best middleground.

The state, or in this case a school, sets aside a specificamount of time and people, on an individual basis, can decide ifthey want to display religion.

Silence can be a wonderful thing. Now if only the ACLU wouldexercise many minutes of silence in response to the court’sruling.

Write to Matt Coleman at P.O. Box 551, Brookhaven, MS39602.