Thursday, September 08, 2005

Sixty Seconds Really Isn't That Long...

This is the first article in my newest column, The Right Side. It’s the brother to the web-log published column Reason and Logic. R & L focuses primarily on why the theory of evolution is false from a scientific and moral viewpoint; while The Right Side argues various political points, mainly from what most would consider a conservative viewpoint. Please be aware that neither column are attempts at being vindictive nor at vilifying anyone. Also, though I will mention at times that people around me have said things that might have inspired an article- as in this one- I will never mention any of the names of such people. You can find all of my Reason and Logic articles at the website, and this column at
One of the more interesting things I’ve heard recently is that the US Supreme Court-supported “Minute of Silence” in public schools is a violation of our rights in accordance to the First Amendment of our nation’s Constitution. Now, most people appear to believe that it’s some part of a state-supported religion or something, but this particular person seemed to construe it as a suppression of the freedom of the press. Oddly enough, he asserted that “if they can make you students shut up for a minute, who knows if next they’ll shut up journalism entirely!”
As far as I’m concerned, the “slippery slope” arguments- where one thing, like moment of silence or allowing prayer in school- will lead to something much more important and radical- like a national, mandatory religion, or the silence of the press- are simply absurd. It should be obvious that the mere fact that you can see such a distinct difference between the two would preclude any serious thought of such a thing happening.
However, that is not even where the problem with this critic of our school’s “Moment of silence” begins. It begins with his idea that it is in violation of the rights guaranteed to us by our first amendment. The moment of silence idea was initially a Virginia law that was upheld in the 4th US Circuit Court of appeals in 2000, which mandated a moment of silence “for public school students to ‘meditate, pray or engage in other silent activity’.” The ruling, of course, was predictably charged by the ACLU as a backdoor attempt to establish religion, and challenged the ruling. However, the Supreme Court refused to hear the case, allowing the ruling to stand. Since then it has been praised by conservatives as well as attacked by liberals. “” says that Gary Bauer was “heartened by it… It's too bad that only a moment-of-silence law can pass court muster. Nevertheless, it's a helpful step in the right direction," he continued.
Of course, the considerably left-leaning ACLU had heavy criticism of the legislation, quoting a Virginia senator and the Executive Director of the ACLU in Virginia on its website thusly:
But Sen. Richard L. Saslaw (D-Fairfax) said the measure would violate the rights of students, especially those whose religions do not call for prayer. He cited a case in which a Jewish student was tormented by his classmates for refusing to pray during a moment of silence. "If you want a government that's dominated by religious people, you might want to try living in Iran for a few years," Saslaw said.
Kent Willis, Executive Director of the ACLU of Virginia, said lawmakers are "at the very least placing Virginia law right on the line of separation of church and state or they are crossing it . . . the state is playing with fire here."
Both of these statements are patently absurd. There is no right that is violated by mandating students to not talk for sixty seconds. The mere fact that they can pray during the moment of silence does not mean it supports religion. A person can pray anytime they want. I can, and do, pray before meals. Does that make lunch a “backdoor attempt at establishing religion?” Hardly. Let’s see liberals try to abolish lunchtime because I can pray during it. If the ACLU wants to abolish prayer in school, they’re going to have to abolish Christians from going there, because I know quite a few students who would pray whether the Minute of Silence was mandated or not.
Interestingly enough, Senator Saslaw, when quoted above, was said to have “cited a case in which a Jewish student was tormented by his classmates for refusing to pray during the moment of silence.” Strangely, I can’t find mention of such a case on, or even on the American Atheist website- and you know they would have something dealing with such a thing were it to actually happen. The ACLU, or their misinformed Senator, actually invented a case for their article arguing against the “Moment of Silence.” Not that this is really surprising to me, somehow, but I do find it rather galling.
The next oddity within Saslow’s opinion is the direct quote attributed to him, reproduced here. “If you want a government that’s dominated by religious people, you might want to try living in Iran for a few years.” Now, perhaps my mind is not so nimble as the Democratic Senator’s, but what, exactly, is the relationship between this comment and the debate about the Minute of Silence? Republicans are trying to assist the “Moment” using debate, reason, and logic; and the Democrat on the opposing side is suggesting residence in Iran. What? I’m not sure what point either he or the ACLU is trying to make, here; and I’m not sure that he does, either…
Then the other source, the Executive Director of Virginia himself, Kent Willis. He asserts that Virginia law is close to crossing, or already has crossed, the line of “separation of church and state,” and that the state is “playing with fire.” Incidentally, there is no such thing as the “separation of church and state,” since there is no mention of such a thing in either our federal or state constitution, our First Amendment, or any other real legal document until 1947, and that was a side note in a US Supreme Court case that will be discussed more later. In fact, the First Amendment states that “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.” That’s Congress, not the individual states. Forget the moment of silence, a state could go so far as to establish a state religion and still be within their constitutional parameters. In fact, some did… Maryland and Massachusetts both had state-established religions- even with religion being in the governments- well after the federal constitution had been written and ratified. Many state constitutions had heavy religious references in them, among the content the words “our Father,” “our Heavenly Father,” and “the Holy Creator.”
The first mention of the exact words “separation of church and state” come from a personal letter that was written by our third president, Thomas Jefferson (Limbaugh, 21). Those who wished to eradicate religion wherever possible largely took this out of context to mean want they wanted it to: the word “religion” had no place on the same page as the word “government,” unless a negative or three was between them. The phrase was giving its first real meaning- meaning as to want the “separatists” (as those who wish a strong separation between church and state are called) want it to be- during the 1947 US Supreme Court Case Everson v. Board of Education by Justice Hugo Black. “The First Amendment,” he said, “has erected a wall between church and state. That wall must be kept high and impregnable. We could not approve the slightest breach” (Limbaugh, 17).
However, a ruling in support of an unconstitutional concept does not make it in the spirit of the constitution’s original intent. Not to mention that this same court supported the “Moment of Silence” in a result of its ruling in Wallace v. Jaffree in 1985. The Court stated that an Alabama Moment of Silence was unconstitutional because the legislation stated that it was for “prayer or meditation.” However, if the intent for the Moment was neutral in all manners, and could be used for prayer or meditation but also for studying or contemplation, then it would not be unconstitutional. In fact, to say that a Moment of Silence could not be used for prayer or meditation would be unconstitutional, as it would preclude one’s religious rights guaranteed by the First Amendment.
Arguably, no one’s rights are suppressed by a sixty second’s worth of silence. The Minute can be used for prayer, meditation, thinking, reading, or writing… It is just a quiet minute, with no sinister connotations to the legally aware American. When the person that was quoted at the very beginning of this article said that the Moment of Silence was unlawful because it required students to be quiet, and then made the assertion that this could lead to a silencing of the press, I immediately saw the irony in such a statement: are not students required to be quiet all the time at school? The person himself, as a teacher, has most definitely required silence during tests or assignments probably a lot more often than he realized. So does silence during tests go against the Constitution of our Nation? Of course not. Being made to be silent in itself is far from unconstitutional in a public or private educational institution. And since the Moment of Silence can be used for purposes other than religion, it’s not a violation of anyone’s religious rights. So how, exactly, is the Moment of Silence unconstitutional?If anyone can prove to me that it is, feel free to email such proof to me at, or take a look at my web log site where this column’s published and post a comment to it. I’ll look at it and respond. Or, if anyone has any other type of comment, feel free to do the same.


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