Tuesday, March 14, 2006

A Moment of Silencing Others?

There was a story in the paper yesterday that I managed to overlook until one of its main characters was on the radio this morning: A guy is suing the Carrollton/Farmers Branch Independent School District because it has a "moment of silence" during the morning announcements, and somehow, he's interpreting this as the students being forced to pray:
An atheist couple whose children attend a Carrollton-Farmers Branch elementary school have filed a complaint in federal district court arguing that the state's mandated moment of silence in public schools is unconstitutional.

David and Shannon Croft named the school district and Gov. Rick Perry in their complaint, filed Friday. In it, they say one of their children was told by a teacher to be quiet because the minute is a "time for prayer."

"I do not believe there is any secular reason for a moment of silence," said Mr. Croft, 37, a computer programmer. "This is just a ruse to get prayer in school without calling it prayer in school. Is there any study showing a moment of silence helps education?"
But wait, not so fast. That one teacher may have erred in his/her statement, but the law definitely does not mandate that prayer--or anything else, for that matter--take place during that silent moment:
Kathy Walt, spokeswoman for the governor, said state law clearly gives children the freedom to do what they wish with the moment of silence.

The law, passed in 2003, allows children to "reflect, pray, meditate or engage in any other silent activities" for one minute after the American and Texas pledges at the beginning of each school day.

"If the student wants to review mentally to get ready for a test or pray silently, they can," she said. "The law does not set it up specifically as a moment for prayer. The student can use that moment to collect their thoughts in whatever manner they choose."
Oh, and the legislator who sponsored the moment-of-silence legislation says that teachers have told him that the silent moment helps students calm down and get ready to work...and that's never a bad thing, right?

I heard Croft on the Jay McFarland program this morning, and Jay pretty much tore him to shreds on Constitutional matters; Croft went on and on about how the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment guarantees "separation of church and state," when it actually reads as follows: ""Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion." (Yes, some of the Founders did discuss a "wall of separation" in their other writings, but not in the Constitution itself.) Also, upon further research (yes, I did research over spring break!), I have discovered that a moment of silence that is not specifically earmarked for prayer has survived a Supreme Court challenge in Wallace v. Jaffree (whereas variations on that moment of silence that did include the word "prayer" were struck down in that same case).

But anyway, that's enough law for this blog, since many others are infinitely more qualified to comment on this than a humble jazz musician. Still, it's telling to note that Croft cites Michael Newdow (the most recent person who tried to get "under God" removed from the Pledge of Allegiance) as one of his heroes, and this quote pretty much sums up where he's coming from: "I don't want my children exposed to people telling them the supernatural is real," Mr. Croft said. "I completely reject Judeo-Christian monotheism."

It's too bad that some people think that the Establishment Clause, which prohibits a government-sponsored religion, has come to mean that government has to be openly hostile to religion...or that a "moment of silence" somehow automatically mandates that people should pray. (Besides, as a number of wiseguys have noted, go into any school during final exam week, and--trust me--there'll be a lot of praying going on during that moment of silence.

Political correctness run amok, part 257: Students at some English preschools are singing Baa Baa, Rainbow Sheep in an effort that some say is to avoid racial conflicts; the people in charge, of course, say that it's just to expand the students' vocabularies. You be the judge...

Every college student's dream? A lady in Norway turns on her kitchen faucet and beer comes out. (The whole thing came about due to a faulty hookup of some beer hoses; needless to say, the local pub patrons were considerably less happy when water started coming out of the beer taps.)

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