JEFFERSON CITY-All public school children would have to observe a minute of silence in the state's public schools under a House bill up for consideration in the Missouri General Assembly.
Of the four bills dealing with a moment of silence, three of them state that the moment of silence is religious. The bills list meditation and prayer as "permissible activities."
"When prayer is left out of society, society just starts to gradually fade away and fall," said Rep. Bill Gratz, D-Jefferson City, one of the bill sponsors.
Gratz is having problems trying to convince some lawmakers his proposal is secular. The Missouri Catholic Conference lobbyist, Michael Hoey, who testified in favor of the bill, did not see any religious interest in the proposals.
Comments the governor made regarding Sept. 11 inspired Gratz to make the proposal. Gratz pointed to the governor's statement that directed Missourians to look to a greater power for guidance. So this bill would give students the option to reflect on religion or other issues.
"Districts may allow their students to leave the school building during the school day to attend religious instruction, subject to rules governing scheduling and academic advancement," he said.
Rep. Bob Clayton, D-Hannibal, expressed confusion about the goals of the bill, and stated that students have the opportunity to get religion outside of school.
"Would this minute of silence be enough?" asked Clayton to Gratz. "Is this going to make the world better?"
At a recent public hearing, opponents of the proposals said the bills violated the constitutional separation between church and state.
Karen Aroesty, director of a local chapter of the Anti-Defamation League, said she did not believe a pure moment of silence could exist, and religion does not belong in public schools.
"Children are very vulnerable and that is one of the reasons why separation between church and state has been so hard fought in public schools, particularly in regard to minority religions," Aroesty said.
Aroesty also said secularism is becoming mroe important as religious diversity increases. "Religion has fostered very well under this separation."
Mary Mosley, legislative director of the Missouri Women's Network, said her ancestors came to the United States in the 19th century for religious freedom because they were a minority religion in Germany.
"Now I would hate to reinstitute discrimination on the bases of religion, and that is the effect that I feel that this bill might have," Mosley said.