Moment of silence
A moment of silence (sometimes referred to as a minute's silence or a one-minute silence) is a period of silent contemplation, prayer, reflection, or meditation. Similar to flying a flag at half-mast, a moment of silence is often a gesture of respect, particularly in mourning for those who have died recently or as part of a tragic historical event.
One minute is a common length of time for the commemoration, though organizers may choose other periods of time, normally connected in some way with the event being commemorated (there might be a minute given for every death commemorated, for example). During the moment of silence, participants may typically bow their heads, remove hats, and refrain from speaking or moving for the duration.
The first recorded instance of an official moment of silence dedicated to a person's death took place in Portugal on February 13, 1912. The Portuguese Senate dedicated 10 minutes of silence to José Maria da Silva Paranhos Júnior, baron of Rio Branco, Brazil, and Minister of the Exterior of the Brazilian government, who had died three days earlier on February 10. This moment of silence was registered in the Senate's records of that day. In the same year, large parts of the US kept a ceremonial silence to honour the dead of the Maine and the Titanic.
Examples of recurring moments of silence
Many people in the Commonwealth observe the two-minute silence at 11:00am on November 11 each year (Armistice Day) to remember sacrifices of members of the armed forces and of civilians in times of war.
Moments of silence are often observed prior to sports matches, with reasons for silences ranging from national and international tragedies, to the death of individuals connected to the sport or specific clubs.
Quakers have practised silent prayer, including moments of silence during other group activities, for more than 300 years. Since silence contains no statements or assumptions concerning beliefs and requires no understanding of language to interpret, it is more easily accepted and used than a spoken prayer or observance when persons of different religious and cultural backgrounds participate together. In the colonial period Pennsylvania Quakers and other Americans worshipped silently together on occasions, yet both groups thought that this implied that they had altered their traditional belief system in doing so. Over time, the effectiveness of Quaker-style silence for non-sectarian and non-controversial public observances has led to its almost universal use in the English-speaking world as well as in other plural societies. This is also the case within many institutions where diverse groups are expected to participate but not necessarily share beliefs - such as in government, schools, commercial companies and the military.
Moment of silence in US schools
The U.S. Supreme Court ruled in 1962 that official organization, sponsorship, or endorsement of school prayer in public schools is forbidden by the First Amendment to the United States Constitution. Teachers and school officials may not lead classes in prayer, but prayer is permitted at voluntary religious clubs, and students are not prohibited from praying themselves. Other rulings have forbidden public, organized prayer at school assemblies, sporting events, and similar school-sponsored activities.
Public moments of silence in the United States both arise from and contribute to this debate over prayer and the separation of church and state. A moment of silence lacks any specific religious formulation, and therefore it has been presented as a way of creating reflection and respect without endorsing any particular religion.
President Ronald Reagan was a supporter of a moment of silence in American schools. In 1981 Reagan formally proposed a constitutional amendment permitting organized prayer in public schools. In his 1984 state of the union address, Reagan asked Congress, who begin their day with an invocation: "If you can begin your day with a member of the clergy standing right here leading you in prayer, then why can't freedom to acknowledge God be enjoyed again by children in every schoolroom across this land?" The Lubavitcher rebbe, Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson was a strong advocate of a moment of silence every morning in public schools, citing the many polls as proof that it reduces crime. Colin Powell, a longtime advocate, has recommended a simple moment of silence at the start of each school day. Further, he states that students could use this interval to pray, meditate, contemplate or study.
However, critics often view the moment of silence as publicly endorsing prayer "in disguise". This issue has been especially raised by atheists groups and advocates, who argue that no non-religious purpose is served by designating an official moment of silence. They point out, for example, that many schools have entire class periods dedicated to silent study, which can equally be used for silent prayer or meditation. Moments of silence point to the tension in the U.S. Constitution and society between accommodation and endorsement. Accommodation of religion is to ensure an environment where a person or student can practice their religion. A question with "moments of silence" laws is whether accommodation was already achieved by the fact that a student can pray or meditate on his/her own without an official moment of silence. Barry Lynn of Americans United for Separation of Church and State said, on a "moment of silence" case, "Students were already allowed to pray, meditate, or reflect under the statute before it was amended. The addition of the word 'pray' where it wasn't needed clearly shows that legislators intended to promote religion, and that's not their job." Courts have stated on these moments of silence cases that a secular purpose is necessary and according to Wallace v. Jaffree, a "statute must be invalidated if it is entirely motivated by a purpose to advance religion."
Although since 1976 the state Virginia law permitted school districts to implement 60 seconds of silence at the start of each school day, in 1985, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that an Alabama "moment of silence or voluntary prayer" law was unconstitutional, in the case Wallace v. Jaffree. In April 2000, a new law came into being; requiring all Virginian public school students to observe a moment of silence. Also, in 2005, a law was passed in Indiana requiring all public schools to give students a chance to say the pledge of allegiance and observe a moment of silence every day. In October 2007, Illinois enacted legislation to require public schools to provide students with a moment of silence at the start of the school day, a statute that is currently being challenged in Illinois state courts. According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, Alabama, Georgia, Louisiana, Massachusetts, Nevada, New Hampshire, Oklahoma, Rhode Island, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, and Virginia also require such moments of quiet in the classroom. In more than 20 other states, teachers are allowed to decide whether they want such a classroom time-out.
In October 2000, the U.S. District Judge Claude M. Hilton ruled that the "moment of silence" law was constitutional. Judge Hilton stated, "The court finds that the Commonwealth's daily observance of one minute of silence act is constitutional. The act was enacted for a secular purpose, does not advance or inhibit religion, nor is there excessive entanglement with religion... Students may think as they wish – and this thinking can be purely religious in nature or purely secular in nature. All that is required is that they sit silently." His ruling was upheld in the 4th circuit. Others argued that the law was not enacted for a secular purpose, pointing to statements made by supporters of the legislation. State Senator Charles R. Hawkins (R-Pennsylvania) stated the moment of silence is "a very small measure to address a very large problem." He also said, "Prayer is not a bad word in my vocabulary." Kent Willis, Executive Director of the ACLU of Virginia, stated 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."
The American Civil Liberties Union was opposed to a proposed constitutional amendment by Newt Gingrich in the early 1990s which would have set aside a voluntary moment of prayer during the school day, which was later independently described by President Bill Clinton as a "moment of silence". They considered this a stealth endorsement of prayer in school.
- "Debates Parlamentares - Diário 039, p. 2 (1912-02-13)". debates.parlamento.pt. Retrieved January 1, 2016.
O Sr. Presidente: Tenho de cumprir o doloroso dever de comunicar ao Senado o falecimento, no Rio de Janeiro, do Barão do Rio Branco, que ilustrou grandemente o seu nome, tanto pela maneira como dirigiu os negócios diplomáticos do Brasil como pela erudição manifestada nas suas obras, e que muito honrou a sua origem lusitana. (Apoiados gerais). Além disso devemos lembrar-nos de que o Barão do Rio Branco era Ministro do Govêrno que primeiro reconheceu a República Portuguesa. (Apoiados gerais). Por consideração, pois, para com todos êstes aspectos daquele vulto notável, proponho que a sessão seja interrompida durante 10 minutos, conservando-se os Srs. Senadores sentados nos seus lugares e silenciosos durante êsse espaço de tempo. (Apoiados gerais). Às 14 horas e 45 minutos foi, portanto, suspensa a sessão, reabrindo-se às 14 e 55 minutos. The President: I must fulfill the painful duty of communicating to the Senate the death in Rio de Janeiro of the baron of Rio Branco, who made his name illustrious with the manner in which he conducted the diplomatic business of Brazil as well as with the erudition manifested in his work, and who honored his Portuguese origins with grandeur. Furthermore, we must remember that the baron of Rio Branco was a Minister of the government that first recognized the Portuguese Republic. Thus, in consideration of all these aspects related to this notable figure, I propose that the session be interrupted for 10 minutes, with the Senators remaining on their seats in silence for that period of time. At 14 hours and 45 minutes the session was therefore suspended, reopening at 14 hours and 55 minutes.
- Maitland, Sara (2010). A book of silence. Berkeley,Ca: Counterpoint. ISBN 9781619021426.
- Colin Powel, A "MOMENT OF SILENCE" IN PLACE OF PRAYER IN U.S. PUBLIC SCHOOLS. Religious Tolerance.
- "Moment of Litigation: Mandatory Moment Of Silence In Texas Schools Faces Court Test". Blog.au.org. Archived from the original on September 28, 2011. Retrieved 2012-07-15.
- "Wallace V. Jaffree". Caselaw.lp.findlaw.com. Retrieved July 15, 2012.
- "Code of Virginia § 22.1–203". Leg1.state.va.us. Archived from the original on October 21, 2000. Retrieved November 11, 2012.
- "Gotta Minute? – Virginia enacts minute of silence in schools". Current Events. January 26, 2001. Archived from the original on February 11, 2006.
- See Bown v. Gwinnett County School District, 112 F.3d 1464 (11th Cir. 1997).
- "Court upholds Virginia's 'moment of silence'". Christian Century. November 15, 2000. Archived from the original on November 2, 2007.
- "Court upholds constitutionality of 'silence' law", Baptist Joint Committee. Report from the Capital, 2000-NOV-7, Page 3.
- Brooke A. Masters (July 25, 2001). "Va. Minute of Silence in Schools Is Upheld: Federal Judges Rule Law Is Not Unconstitutional". The Washington Post. pp. B01.
- "U.S. 4th Circuit Court of Appeals: Brown v. Gilmore" (PDF). Pacer.ca4.iscourts.gov. July 24, 2001. Archived from the original (PDF) on August 4, 2004.
- "Virginia Senate OKs Schools' Moment of Silence". Aclu.org. February 1, 2000. Retrieved July 15, 2012.
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