Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Silent Treatment

Even in the heated times in which we find ourselves, I want to give credit where credit is due. To the Governor. Governor Blagojevich.

The Governor today vetoed SB1463, legislation that would have mandated a moment of silence in schools, a moment of silence which is now a permissive option left up to the decision of local school officials.

Only one member of the Senate, Dan Rutherford, had the wherewithal to vote against the bill in that chamber, and if memory strikes me correctly, I was the only House member to speak against the bill in debate in our chamber, although to their credit, about two dozen House members refrained from supporting the bill.

I could write at some length as to why I found some fundamental flaws in what I would trust is well-intentioned legislation, but I doubt that I could put do it as effectively as the late Justice Seymour Simon did:

True, a child could silently recite a poem or count sheep (during a classroom moment of silence). However, that is not the point. It is the government-sanctioned and government-enforced religious purpose that is forbidden by our Constitution. So long as the purpose of the silence is to permit prayer, that purpose helps to establish religion, to break down the barriers between church and state and to undermine our precious religious freedoms. Even silence highlights the non-participant as different. The child who does not join the silence is singled out. Also, many religions have a format for prayer. Muslims kneel on a prayer rug facing Mecca. Catholics sometimes kneel. Many Protestants bow their heads. The moment of silence can end up with children acting in different ways to conduct their prayers, again causing some to feel different than their classmates. Like organized vocal prayer, an organized period of silent prayer will carry the sanction of the school authorities, the participation of the government in what should be strictly private activity. The minute of silence is dangerous in itself, but even scarier is the possibility that its advocates will use it as only the first step toward required, organized vocal prayer in the public schools....the late Illinois Supreme Court Justice Seymour Simon, 1995

To read the thoughts of several other prominent individuals more eloquent than me, take a look at Eric Zorn's post on this issue from earlier this year.

It would have been easy for the Governor to go along with the overwhelming number of legislators who supported this issue, but he held the line where it needed to be held. He did the right thing. And I give him full credit for doing so.

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