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.