I just finished reading the sneak-preview of this weekend's New York Times Magazine essay by NYU Law professon Noah Feldman, "A Church State Solution."
Prof. Feldman writes, among other things, about an issue that is a particularly thorny one for me: mandatory "quite time" at the beginning of public school days. Feldman basically argues that "quiet times" should be allowed, as they aren't coercing anyone into adopting any kind of religion, generically or specifically.
I'm an atheist, but I can't make up my mind on this. There's a big part of me that says that mandatory "quiet time"--which could be used for prayer--would make the one atheist in the classroom (or the one Buddhist, or Zoroastrian, etc.) have to risk humiliation, exclusion, or coercion, because he or she is not using that time to pray, like the rest of the Christian students are so obviously doing.
At the same time, however, I don't think that public schools should make it IMPOSSIBLE for students of faith to observe their religion. Now, that's not so much of a problem for the Christian public school students of 2005--because Christian dogma does not require prayer during homeroom.
However, what about observerant Moslems who have to pray five times daily? Should public schools now be forced to set aside "quite times" accomodate them? And if we're accomodating Moslems, then what about an adherent of a faith that requires prayer from the hours of 10 a.m. - 2 p.m.? Should a student of that faith be excused from all those classes to engage in "quiet time"?
My last point is obviously an exaggeration, but the "slippery slope" should be obvious to all here. Is it intellectually honest to just throw one mandatory "quiet time" in at the beginning of school? More broadly, is it ever okay to mandate a specific time and place for students to collectively be "quiet"--when it is obviously understood by every student present that that time is actually prayer time for the faithful?
What does the blogosphere think?