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Moment Of Bedlam More Useful Than Moment Of Silence by Annie Laurie Gaylor (September 1994)

The bill to require every school day to open with a "period of quiet reflection," passed by hot-headed Georgia legislators in this election year, is a sham.

The law reads, in part:

"The General Assembly finds that in today's hectic society, all too few of our citizens are able to experience even a moment of quiet reflection before plunging headlong into the day's activities. Our young citizens are particularly affected by this absence of an opportunity for a moment of quiet reflection. The General Assembly finds that our young, and society as a whole, would be well served if students were afforded a moment of quiet reflection at the beginning of each day in the public schools."

Who buys this? We all know how regimented "our young citizens" are in school, forced at an early age to sit still for long periods of time at desks, their every move dictated by adults and school bells. It would have been far more practical for the Georgia assembly to require a "moment of bedlam" than a moment of silence!

Everyone knows that "moments of silence" are euphemisms, promoted as a way to "get around" the 1962 and 1963 rulings by the U.S. Supreme Court barring prayers and bible-reading in public schools.

While the new public law denies a religious intent, saying it is "not intended to be and shall not be conducted as a religious service or exercise," in fact the legislative debate leaves a clear record of the religious motivation behind the law.

Most damning is Section 3, saying "student initiated voluntary school prayers at schools or school related events which are nonsectarian and nonproselytizing in nature [shall not be prevented]."

How can there be a "nonproselytizing" public prayer? The very purpose of a vocal prayer, broadcast over a school loudspeaker or intercom, or scheduled as an official part of school games, activities and commencements, is to proselytize, to force everyone in the audience to pray or be prayed at. It is obvious that the Georgia Assembly passed Section 3 of this law to encourage students to engage in vocal group prayer at public schools, thereby inflicting religious ideology on a captive audience of other students and turning public schools into places of worship.

As recently as 1992, the U.S. Supreme Court specifically held that prayers at public school commencements are coercive and unconstitutional. School officials who orchestrate "student-led" prayers at school functions are violating the constitutional rights of students just as surely as if they had invited pastors to pray before the student body. "Student-led" or "student-initiated" prayers pit students against other students and exploit peer pressure, with the public school showing preference for religious students who proselytize fellow students.

It should also have been obvious to the Georgia Assembly that prayers at school related events are specifically barred by an appellate court ruling in Georgia, Douglas County School District v. Jager (1989), in which the U.S. Supreme Court let stand rulings declaring pregame invocations in Georgia public schools unconstitutional.

Even as recently as 1985 the high court ruled Alabama's "meditation" law unconstitutional, finding the legislative record clearly showed religious intent.

Georgia legislators who are indifferent to the constitutional principle of separation of church and state might at least heed this admonition, attributed to Jesus:

"And when thou prayest, thou shall not be as the hypocrites are: for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and in the corners of the streets, that they may be seen of men . . .

"But thou, when thou prayest, enter into thy closet, and when thou hast shut thy door, pray to thy Father which is in secret; and thy Father which seeth in secret shall reward thee openly." (Matthew 6: 5 6)

Annie Laurie Gaylor is editor of Freethought Today. This op-ed piece was sent to every Georgia daily newspaper.

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  • byline: By Annie Laurie Gaylor

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