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Should a “moment of silence” be legal in

public schools?

In 1962 the Supreme Court decided that public

schools did not have the power to authorize school

prayer. This decision made public school in

the U.S. more atheistic than many European

nations. For example, crosses still hang

on the classroom walls in Poland, and the Ten

Commandments are displayed in Hungary. There are

prayers held at the beginning of legislative

and judicial sessions and every President has

mentioned a divine power in his inaugural

speech. In keeping with a spirit of religious

freedom as stated in the First Amendment, there

is no reason why students should not be allowed

to have a moment of silence during the school day when

they can pray or do as they choose.

The case Engel v. Vitale in 1962 decided that

school prayer is unconstitutional. With this case,

it was pointed out that the students were to

“voluntarily” recite the following prayer:

“Almighty God, we acknowledge our dependence

upon Thee, and we beg Thy blessings upon us, our

parents, our teachers, and our country.”

The court ruled that this rule was unconstitutional

according to the First Amendment’s “establishment

clause,” which states “Congress shall make no law

respecting an establishment of religion.” In response to

the Engel v.Vitale case some schools adopted a

“moment of silence.”

In 1963, another case was brought before the court

dealing with school prayer, Abington School

District v. Schempp. The Schempp family challenged

a law in Pennsylvania requiring the students to say

ten verses of the Bible before school. These readings

from the Bible were declared unconstitutional.

Members of the board felt reading the Bible would

give the children more moral values. The Schempp

family strongly disagreed. Members of Congress

attempted to find a compromise. From this effort came the

adoption of the moment of silence, which is guaranteed

by the First Amendment’s “Free Exercise” clause.

Six states now permit silent moments — Georgia,

Virginia, Maryland, Mississippi, Tennessee, and

Alabama. Silent prayer was ruled constitutional

in 1985 as long as it had no religious intent or

purpose. (Newsweek, October 3, 1994)

Prayer has been banned in schools for thirty-three

years. The moment of silence has been ruled

constitutional, however. Every student fills a

moment of silence in a different way: through

song, a prayer, or a memory.

Newsweek, October 3, 1994, vol. 124.

U.S. News and World Report, December 5, 1995

Vol. 117, No. 22, pg. 8-9.

The Case of Engel v. Vitale 370 U.S. 421 1962,

p. 118-119.

Abington School District v. Schempp 374 U.S. 203;

83 S. Ct. 1560; 10 L. Ed. 2d 844 1963, pg. 529-530.


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