A moment of silence is a period of silent contemplation, prayer, reflection, or meditation. Similar to flying a flag at half-mast, a moment of silence is often a gesture of respect, particularly in mourning for those who have died recently or as part of a tragic historical event. Most commonwealth countries call it a minutes silence or a one-minute silence as that is the shortest period of silence that they observe after a tragic event.
Silent prayer, including moments of silence practiced during other group activities, have been practiced by Quakers for more than 300 years. Since silence contains no statements or assumptions concerning beliefs and requires no understanding of language to interpret, it is more easily accepted and used than a spoken prayer or observance when persons of different religious and cultural backgrounds participate together. In the colonial period Pennsylvania Quakers and Americans worshiped silently together on occasions, yet both groups thought that this implied that they had altered their traditional belief system in doing so. Over time, the effectiveness of Quaker-style silence for non-sectarian and non-controversial public observances has led to its almost universal use in the English-speaking world as well as other plural societies. This is also the case within many institutions where diverse groups are expected to participate but not necessarily share beliefs such as in government, schools, businesses and the military.
Many people in the Commonwealth of Nations observe the two-minute silence, at 11:00am on November 11 each year (Armistice Day) to remember sacrifices of members of the armed forces and of civilians in times of war. The period of silence is essentially a ritualized night vigil bracketed by the traditional bugle call "The Last Post"" and "The Rouse", which is also called "Reveille" in the United States. The Last Post was the traditional bugle call at the end of the day, and the Rouse started the military day. For military purposes, the traditional night vigil over the slain was not just to ensure they were indeed dead and not unconscious or in a coma, but also to guard them from being mutilated or despoiled, or dragged off by scavengers. This makes the ceremony not so much an act of remembrance but a pledge to guard the progress of war death. The act is enhanced by the use of dedicated cenotaphs (literally Greek for "empty tomb") and the laying of wreaths—the traditional means of bestowing high freedoms in Ancient Rome. Some schools and colleges across the UK often sound the school bell or fire alarm to start and end the period of silence; similarly, Israel sounds air raid sirens to mark the two minute silence.
One minute is a common length of time for the commemoration, though other periods of time may be chosen, normally connected in some way with the event being commemorated (there might be a minute given for every death commemorated, for example). During the moment of silence, participants may typically bow their heads, remove hats, and refrain from speaking or moving places for the duration. A person officiating or presiding over the gathering will be responsible for the declaring and timing of the period of silence.
In Israel, moments of silence are held in memory of the victims of the Holocaust, and Jewish holidays in memory of fallen soldiers and terrorist victims. The moment of silence are marked as a time to live peacefully with other countries. During this time, most Israelis stand at attention, and most of the country comes to a standstill as people pay silent tribute to the dead.
Moments of silence are often observed prior to sports matches with reasons for silences range from national and international tragedies, to the death of individuals connected to the sport or specific clubs. The silence is usually ended by the referee blowing his whistle.
In recent years, a trend has developed (particularly with Association football fans) to fill the traditional minute of silence with a minute of applause which has long been a custom in Italy. Psychologically this is seen by some[by whom?] to celebrate the deceased person's life rather than mourn his/her death. Recent recipients of the minute's applause include deceased footballers Jock Stein, George Best, Ernie Cooksey, and Alan Ball. It is frequently alleged that the predominant reason for the minute's applause tending to replace the minute's silence is out of fear that opposition fans will not respect the silence, and spend their time booing, jeering, or otherwise attempting to disrupt it; many silences have been cut short from the usual minute to thirty seconds or less for this reason.
The first recorded instance of an official moment of silence dedicated to a person's death took place in Portugal on February 13, 1912. The Portuguese Senate dedicated 10 minutes of silence to José Maria da Silva Paranhos Júnior, baron of Rio Branco, Brazil, and Minister of the Exterior of the Brazilian government, who had died three days earlier on February 10. This moment of silence was registered in the Senate's records of that day.
In Cape Town, South Africa, there was a daily two-minute silence, known as the Two Minute Pause and later the Remembrance Day silence, initiated by the daily firing of the noon day gun on Signal Hill. This was instituted by the Cape Town Mayor, Sir Harry Hands, on May 14, 1918: one minute was a time of thanksgiving for those who had returned alive, the second minute was to remember the fallen. During the silence a bugler played the Last Post and then Reveille to signal the end of the silence. A Reuters correspondent in Cape Town cabled a description of the event to London and from there word spread to Canada and Australia.
Sir Percy FitzPatrick, a born South African and author of "Jock of the Bushveld", is credited with suggesting this tradition to King George V, who implemented the idea. When Sir Percy read that November 11, 1919 was to be recognized officially as Armistice Day in London, he thought it appropriate that on that day, every year, there should be a two-minute silent pause throughout the Empire, to commemorate the Fallen. He had experienced similar silent pauses in Cape Town. Both FitzPatrick's son, Nugent (his eldest and a Major in the Union Defence Force) and Sir Harry Hands' son, Reginald Harry Myburgh Hands, were killed in France and both were understandably affected by this loss.
Fitzpatrick, writing to Lord Milner in November 1919 described the silence that fell on the city during this daily ritual. Taking into consideration that the guns of war finally fell silent at 11:00 on the 11th day of the 11th month (November), Sir Percy felt that the idea of observing the two-minute silence at that time and on that date, would give the Act of Homage great impact, and proposed that this became an official part of the annual service on Armistice Day.
He submitted his suggestion to King George V. To his great delight he read: "The whole World Stands to Attention. Cables from every part of the world showing how the King's message had been accepted and interpreted, were printed. From the Indian jungles to Alaska, on the trains, on the ships at sea, in every part of the globe where a few British were gathered together, the Two-Minute pause was observed." Sir Percy stated: "I was so stunned by the news that I could not leave the hotel. An hour or two afterwards I received a cable from Lord Long of Wexhall: 'Thank you. Walter Long.' Only then did I know that my proposal had reached the King and had been accepted and that the Cabinet knew the source."
The meaning behind Sir Percy's proposal was stated as:
- It is due to the women, who have lost and suffered and borne so much, with whom the thought is ever present.
- It is due to the children that they know to whom they owe their dear fought freedom.
- It is due to the men, and from them, as men.
- But far and away, above all else, it is due to those who gave their all, sought no recompense, and with whom we can never re-pay – our Glorious and Immortal Dead.
Sir Percy's letter was received by Lord Milner on November 4, 1919, reviewed and accepted by the War Cabinet on November 5, and was immediately approved by George V. A press statement from the Palace said:
Tuesday next, November 11, is the first anniversary of the Armistice, which stayed the worldwide carnage of the four preceding years and the victory of Right and Freedom. I believe that my people in every part of the Empire fervently wish to perpetuate the meaning of the Great Deliverance, and of those who laid down their lives to achieve it.
To afford an opportunity for the universal expression of their feeling, it is my desire and hope that at the hour when the Armistice comes into force, the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month, there may be for a brief space of two minutes, a complete suspension of all our normal activities.
Controversy relating to church and school prayer in the United States
The U.S. Supreme Court ruled in 1962, in, that official organization, sponsorship, or endorsement of school prayer is forbidden by the First Amendment to the United States Constitution in public school. Teachers and school officials may not lead classes in prayer, but prayer is permitted at voluntary religious clubs, and students are not prohibited from praying themselves. Other rulings have forbidden public, organized prayer at school assemblies, sporting events, and similar school-sponsored activities.
Public moments of silence in the United States both arise from and contribute to this debate over prayer and the separation of church and state. A moment of silence lacks any specific religious formulation, and therefore it has been presented as a way of creating reflection and respect without endorsing any particular sect.
President Ronald Reagan was a supporter of a moment of silence in American schools. In 1981 Reagan formally proposed a constitutional amendment permitting organized prayer in public schools. In his 1984 state of the union address, Reagan asked congress, who begin their day with an invocation: "If you can begin your day with a member of the clergy standing right here leading you in prayer, then why can't freedom to acknowledge God be enjoyed again by children in every schoolroom across this land?" The Lubavitcher rebbe, Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson was a strong advocate of a moment of silence every morning in public schools. Citing the many polls as proof that it reduces crime. Colin Powell, a longtime advocate, has recommended a simple moment of silence at the start of each school day. Further, he states that students could use this interval to pray, meditate, contemplate or study.
However, critics often view the moment of silence as publicly endorsing prayer "in disguise". This issue has been especially raised by atheists groups and advocates, who argue that no non-religious purpose is served by designating an official moment of silence. They point out, for example, that many schools have entire class periods dedicated to silent study, which can equally be used for silent prayer or meditation. Moments of silence point to the tension in the U.S. Constitution and society between accommodation and endorsement. Accommodation of religion is to ensure an environment where a person or student can practice their religion. A question with "moments of silence" laws is whether accommodation was already achieved by the fact that a student can pray or meditate on his/her own without an official moment of silence. Barry Lynn of Americans United for Separation of Church and State said, on a "moment of silence" case, "Students were already allowed to pray, meditate, or reflect under the statute before it was amended. The addition of the word 'pray' where it wasn't needed clearly shows that legislators intended to promote religion, and that's not their job." Courts have stated on these moments of silence cases that a secular purpose is necessary and according to Wallace v. Jaffree, a "statute must be invalidated if it is entirely motivated by a purpose to advance religion."
Although since 1976 the state Virginia law permitted school districts to implement 60 seconds of silence at the start of each school day, in 1985, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that an Alabama "moment of silence or voluntary prayer" law was unconstitutional, in the case Wallace v. Jaffree. In April 2000, a new law came into being; requiring all Virginian public school students to observe a moment of silence. Also, in 2005, a law was passed in Indiana requiring all public schools to give students a chance to say the pledge of allegiance and observe a moment of silence every day. In October 2007, Illinois enacted legislation to require public schools to provide students with a moment of silence at the start of the school day, a statute that is currently being challenged in Illinois state courts. According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, Alabama, Georgia, Louisiana, Massachusetts, Nevada, New Hampshire, Oklahoma, Rhode Island, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, and Virginia also require such moments of quiet in the classroom. In more than 20 other states, teachers are allowed to decide whether they want such a classroom time-out.
In October 2000, the U.S. District Judge Claude M. Hilton ruled that the "moment of silence" law was constitutional. Judge Hilton stated, "The court finds that the Commonwealth's daily observance of one minute of silence act is constitutional. The act was enacted for a secular purpose, does not advance or inhibit religion, nor is there excessive entanglement with religion... Students may think as they wish – and this thinking can be purely religious in nature or purely secular in nature. All that is required is that they sit silently." His ruling was upheld in the 4th circuit. There is disagreement though with the law being enacted though for a secular purpose because of statements made by supporters of the legislation. State Senator Charles R. Hawkins (R-Pennsylvania) stated the moment of silence is "a very small measure to address a very large problem." He also said, "Prayer is not a bad word in my vocabulary." Kent Willis, Executive Director of the ACLU of Virginia, stated lawmakers are "at the very least placing Virginia law right on the line of separation of church and state or they are crossing it . . . the state is playing with fire here."
The American Civil Liberties Union was opposed to a proposed constitutional amendment by Newt Gingrich in the early 1990s which would have set aside a voluntary moment of prayer during the school day, which was later independently described by President Bill Clinton as a "moment of silence". They considered this stealth endorsement of prayer in school.
- Ronay, Barney (2009-08-10). "How applause is replacing the minute's silence". The Guardian. ISSN 0261-3077. Retrieved 2017-06-09.
- "Everton lead Alan Ball tributes". Current Events. April 28, 2007.
- "Can applause really replace the minute's silence?". The Guardian. September 12, 2007.
- "Debates Parlamentares - Diário 039, p. 2 (1912-02-13)". debates.parlamento.pt. Retrieved 2016-01-01.
O Sr. Presidente: Tenho de cumprir o doloroso dever de comunicar ao Senado o falecimento, no Rio de Janeiro, do Barão do Rio Branco, que ilustrou grandemente o seu nome, tanto pela maneira como dirigiu os negócios diplomáticos do Brasil como pela erudição manifestada nas suas obras, e que muito honrou a sua origem lusitana. (Apoiados gerais). Além disso devemos lembrar-nos de que o Barão do Rio Branco era Ministro do Govêrno que primeiro reconheceu a República Portuguesa. (Apoiados gerais). Por consideração, pois, para com todos êstes aspectos daquele vulto notável, proponho que a sessão seja interrompida durante 10 minutos, conservando-se os Srs. Senadores sentados nos seus lugares e silenciosos durante êsse espaço de tempo. (Apoiados gerais). Às 14 horas e 45 minutos foi, portanto, suspensa a sessão, reabrindo-se às 14 e 55 minutos. The President: I must fulfill the painful duty of communicating to the Senate the death in Rio de Janeiro of the baron of Rio Branco, who made his name illustrious with the manner in which he conducted the diplomatic business of Brazil as well as with the erudition manifested in his work, and who honored his Portuguese origins with grandeur. Furthermore, we must remember that the baron of Rio Branco was a Minister of the government that first recognized the Portuguese Republic. Thus, in consideration of all these aspects related to this notable figure, I propose that the session be interrupted for 10 minutes, with the Senators remaining on their seats in silence for that period of time. At 14 hours and 45 minutes the session was therefore suspended, reopening at 14 hours and 55 minutes.
- Royal Canadian Legion Branch # 138."2-Minute Wave of Silence" Revives a Time-honoured Tradition. Accessed on June 5, 2014.
- The First South African. A P Cartwright. P. 224, and "A Two-Minute Silent Pause to Remember: Time From Africa". JA Abrahams
- Adrian Gregory, the Silence of Memory (1st edition, 1994), pp 9–10.
- Daily Express, November 7, 1919, p1.
- Colin Powel, A "MOMENT OF SILENCE" IN PLACE OF PRAYER IN U.S. PUBLIC SCHOOLS. Religious Tolerance.
- "Moment of Litigation: Mandatory Moment Of Silence In Texas Schools Faces Court Test". Blog.au.org. Archived from the original on September 28, 2011. Retrieved 2012-07-15.
- "Wallace V. Jaffree". Caselaw.lp.findlaw.com. Retrieved 2012-07-15.
- "Code of Virginia § 22.1–203". Leg1.state.va.us. Archived from the original on October 21, 2000. Retrieved 2012-11-11.
- "Gotta Minute? – Virginia enacts minute of silence in schools". Current Events. January 26, 2001.[dead link]
- See Bown v. Gwinnett County School District, 112 F.3d 1464 (11th Cir. 1997).
- "Court upholds Virginia's 'moment of silence'". Christian Century. November 15, 2000.[dead link]
- "Court upholds constitutionality of 'silence' law", Baptist Joint Committee. Report from the Capital, 2000-NOV-7, Page 3.
- Brooke A. Masters (July 25, 2001). "Va. Minute of Silence in Schools Is Upheld: Federal Judges Rule Law Is Not Unconstitutional". The Washington Post. pp. B01.
- "U.S. 4th Circuit Court of Appeals: Brown v. Gilmore" (PDF). Pacer.ca4.iscourts.gov. July 24, 2001.
- "Virginia Senate OKs Schools' Moment of Silence". Aclu.org. February 1, 2000. Retrieved 2012-07-15.
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