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Moment of Silence

Moment of Silence



What is a Moment of Silence?

A moment of silence is a period of remembrance, prayer, or acknowledgement of an event in the past.  The period of silence, usually about two minutes, allows a collective group of people to pray or remember in their own way without any particular denomination or ritual.  In many views, the silence is a way to remember and pray while maintaining the separation of church and state. 

When does a Moment of Silence Occur?

The period of silence usually occurs in remembrance of a war or national tragedy, but the period of silence is common at sporting events and educational institutions as well.  Even though a period of silence defines no particular set of prayers or rituals, there is still debate over the constitutionality of the period of silence. 

Legal Actions Involving a Moment of Silence

Wallace v. Jaffree

In 1985, this case was brought to the Supreme Court because Alabama law required public schools to begin the day with a silent medication or voluntary prayer.  The parents of a student sued, claiming the statute violated the Establishment Clause and encouraged students to participate in religious prayer.  The District Court decided the law was constitutional, but the case was appealed, and the Supreme Court ruled that the state statute was unconstitutional. 

Since 1985, numerous other states have addressed the constitutionality of a moment of silence.  Many states have enacted legislation that requires a moment of silence at the beginning of a school day, and the legislation has been challenged in numerous states as well.  Many states give the teacher the option of observing a moment of silence. 

The constitutionality of a period of silence is still debated.  The Supreme Court is usually steadfast on declaring the observance in a school as unconstitutional, but individual states view the matter differently much of the time.