There are some people who have never gotten over the Supreme Court decisions that banned organized, teacher-led prayer from the public schools. In 1962, in Engel v. Vitale, the Court ruled that a prayer written by the New York State Board of Regents was a breach of the First Amendment’s Establishment Clause. In 1963, the Court ruled in Abington Township School District v. Schempp that school officials cannot lead prayer or conduct Bible readings. For some people, this was the Beginning of the End of Christian America.
Since then, various efforts have been made to find a way around Engel and Abington. The method of choice in recent years has been the “moment of silence.” In Illinois, a law regarding such a moment was passed a couple of years ago and, as is always the case, wound up in court. Now, according to OneNewsNow, a federal court ruling will soon let parties know who gets to chalk up the W:
School officials are awaiting a federal court decision concerning the “period of silence” law in Illinois schools.
David Cortman, senior counsel of the Alliance Defense Fund (ADF), tells OneNewsNow the moment of silence is designed for students, not teachers.
“During that time [students] could think about whatever they want to, and heaven forbid they could pray, and some local atheists — with the help of our friends at the ACLU — decided to bring a challenge based on the so-called ‘separation of church and state,'” Cortman explains.
The lawsuit was filed by an atheist who has filed other lawsuits in the past targeting religion. The ADF attorney notes: “What’s interesting here, this is not only a challenge to vocal prayer, this is actually a challenge to silent prayer. Apparently the idea of prayer is so threatening that it’s something he doesn’t even want people to be able to perform silently or even think about.”
Which means, Cortman explains, that teachers and administrators would have to be able to read students’ minds to know if they are praying or thinking about school or a weekend date. A lower court ruled the moment of silence “unconstitutionally vague,” but an appeal was heard recently before the Seventh U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.
OneNewsNow is a Christian media outlet, so I’m not surprised that we don’t the the plaintiffs’ side of this, but it doesn’t matter. We’re all familiar with the arguments about breaching the wall of separation of church and state, which with a moment of silence law that doesn’t mandate anything except silence has always struck me as inane. The strict separationist argument here comes across as the atheist equivalent of the old saw about Puritans and fun: they can’t stand the idea that anyone might ever be thinking about God, at least on school grounds. But here’s where the title of the post comes from: why does the ADF, and a lot of other Christians and Christian organizations, think this is worth the time and energy?
I remember my years in public school well enough to know that if a child is moved to pray, there’s actually lots of time to do so silently, and there’s nothing anyone can do about it. Some will say that it makes a difference to the overwhelmingly secular environment in the public schools to offer the moment of silence, but considering there’s nothing said about prayer (an option that only the spiritually self-motivated will think of and take advantage of, something they would do at any time), I don’t see how it makes any difference to that environment. It’s not just that it isn’t a Christian exercise; it’s not even a religious one. So why is it such a big deal. Why should the ADF, the American Center for Law and Justice, or any other Christian legal practice spend a dime or waste an attorney’s valuable time defending such inconsequential legislation?