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The Family Room by Michelle Martin

November 11, 2007

School Prayer

“Halle-halle-halle-luu-ia, halle-halle-halleluu- ia …”

The upbeat rhythm and melody of the “Alleluia” my kids sing at their school Masses has burrowed its way into my brain and won’t leave.

It’s there when I run the dog in the early morning, when I drive to work, when I wait in line at the store.

It’s there because it’s become one of Frank’s favorite refrains, and I hear him singing it as he plays with his Legos or uses his toy aircraft carrier to ferry his little cars around the house.

It stays until I hear Caroline in her room, singing “Lord of the Dance”: “Dance, dance, wherever you may be, I am the Lord of the Dance said he …”

Now I have a new song making a home in my head.

Maybe a little silence would be nice.

But not the “moment of silence” that is now required in all public schools in Illinois.

The legislature passed the law calling for a moment of silence over the veto of Gov. Rod Blagojevich, and it stands even while a lawsuit filed by Buffalo Grove atheist Rob Sherman works its way through the courts.

Sherman and other opponents claim the “moment of silence” is a stand-in for school prayer, as though all students will see their chance to pray in school and seize it. I honestly don’t think teachers should be leading prayers in public schools; trying to come up with one that would satisfy the members of all religions and no religion would water it down to the point of, well, pointlessness. But I don’t think the moment of silence is much better.

Since “moment” is undefined, and lasts as little as 5 seconds in some schools, there’s not much of an opportunity for a quick “Hail Mary” or “Our Father,” let alone profound reflection, and prayers along the lines of “Oh, God, please help me pass this test!” have always been said, still are said and always will be said, moment of silence or not.

Moments of silence aren’t much of an issue in Catholic school, where prayer is explicit and often directed. There are prayers to start the day, prayers before meals, weekly school Masses and other occasions of prayer — all besides regular religion classes.

The Masses offer special opportunities for learning about prayer, especially when students are entrusted with reading Scripture or the prayers of the faithful for their classmates. I’m sure that prayer is sometimes silent in Catholic schools, too, but it is also spoken and sung. It need not be done furtively, under the cover of a “moment of silence,” as though it is an unmentionable act.

It can be, and is, shouted from the rooftops — or at least the front of the classroom. That’s the way people talk to and about those they love; no one tells a grade-schooler they can’t mention their mother or father or even a favorite uncle or cousin. Why should they have to keep quiet about God?

Martin is assistant editor of the Catholic New World. Contact her at [email protected].