Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Moment of Silence or School Prayer

Andrew Sullivan is upset that an atheist and his daughter are suing a school over a moment of silence. He asks for "mutual respect." Two points:

1. I'm not an atheist, but I suspect the atheists out there would say that they will give respect to what Andrew calls "Christianists" when there is any sign that Christianists will reciprocate. For example, one movie made from one successful fantasy series that might be read as having atheistic themes sends the Catholic League into spasms of distress and offense. the Catholic League's leader worries that the books "sell the virtues of atheism." But I guarantee if someone had said that the Narnia books were offensive because they were "selling the virtues of theism" the Catholic League would have a fit.
Similarly, when an atheist suggests he shouldn't have to have God thrust at him everytime he goes to the Courthouse, visits Congress, or looks at his legal tender is ridiculed and told to grow up and show some tolerance. In other words, tolerance has to go two ways, and usually it is the majority who needs to show tolerance before we should expect it from the minority.

2. As we saw during the "Intelligent Design" debate, atheists and other supporters of the separation of Church and State are legitimately worried about ulterior motives of the Christianists. As the federal judge in Pennsylvania said about the "Intelligent Design" curriculum: "We find that the secular purposes claimed by the board amount to a pretext for the board’s real purpose, which was to promote religion in the public school classroom." Some, like me, remember when the same people now advocating moments of silence were pushing for school prayer. And that raises an interesting question - what purpose does the "moment of silence" serve? Obviously, it is a method of formalizing a time of prayer. The kids aren't stupid. As one Seventh Grader said: "It’s a time to thank God for my day." But even without the Illinois law requiring a moment of silence, that Seventh Grader has time to thank God. Before lunch. During study hall. Before she goes to sleep. And without the moment of silence no one should be told he cannot pray in school. There just won't be a time set aside for it. No harm, no foul.

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