A moment of silence (also referred to as a minute's silence or a one-minute 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, such as Remembrance Day.
A minute, or 60 seconds, is a common length of time for the memorialization, though organizers may choose other periods of time, normally connected in some way with the event being commemorated (there might be a minute given for every death commemorated, for example). During a moment of silence, its participants may typically bow their heads, remove their hats, and refrain from speaking, or moving, for the duration of it.
The first recorded instance of an official moment of silence dedicated to a dead person 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'd died three days earlier on February 10. This moment of silence was registered in the Senate's records of that day. In the same year, large parts of the United States kept a ceremonial silence to honour the dead of the Maine and the Titanic.
The first person to publicly suggest a moment's silence as a vessel to hold the sorrow and loss of war was either by South African author and politician James Percy FitzPatrick or by Australian journalist Edward George Honey, himself a World War I veteran. While the Australian government claims Honey was the originator of the idea as it pertained to war remembrance, there are no primary sources to conclusively confirm a date in which Honey's proposal predated FitzPatrick's. Nevertheless, each person's idea was conceived less than a year from each other, so it's possible the shared idea was a matter of parallel thinking.
Eric Harding's booklet written in support of the monument to Honey erected in 1965 acknowledges that other silences had been held before (upon the death of King Edward, the silences in South Africa "when the war was going badly for the Allies", ceremonies in Australia for lost miners, in the US when the Maine was sunk, amongst others), but in his words "the originality of Honey's suggestion is based on the fact that this was the first time in history that a victory had been celebrated as a tribute to those who sacrificed their lives and their health to make the victory possible".[Note 1] Harding also acknowledges that, despite extensive research, no evidence of Honey's attendance at any rehearsal at Buckingham Palace, nor any record of an official communication mentioning Honey's letter having played a part in the adoption of the remembrance tradition, could be found, and that the only "proof" was that the letter preceded the formal approach to the King by several months. However he also writes that "Sir Percy's right to recognition for bringing the matter to official notice does not detract in any way from Honey's right to recognition as the first to make the suggestion."
According to an Australian War Memorial article, Honey attended a trial of the event with the Grenadier guards at Buckingham Palace, as did Fitzpatrick (although it was not known whether they ever actually met or discussed their ideas). However, Honey's wife (whom he called "Millie"), as reported by her friend M.F. Orford's 1961 article, states that he "never went out into the streets near the crowds at any time during the observance of the Silence...”, and they only heard about the observance of the first Two Minutes' Silence when the order was announced by Buckingham Palace.
Many people in the Commonwealth of Nations observe the two-minute silence at 11:00 am on November 11 each year (Armistice Day) to remember sacrifices of members of the armed forces and of civilians in times of war. In addition, a two minutes of silence is also observed in the United Kingdom on the second Sunday of November which is more recently known as Remembrance Sunday and is televised with a close up image of the Big Ben clock chiming 11 and the buglers sounding the Last Post at 11:02 am.
In Australia and New Zealand, the ceremony was quickly adopted for commemorations held at dawn on ANZAC Day, 25 April. This moment of silence is held to remember the service men and women who died in WWI and subsequent conflicts.
In Japan, a minute of silence is observed (and televised nationally) at ceremonies every August in both Hiroshima and Nagasaki cities at the same time as the atomic bombings.
Moments of silence are often observed prior to other events including gatherings such as sports matches, with reasons for silences ranging from national and international tragedies or to the death of individuals connected to a group.
Quakers have practiced silent worship for more than 300 years, believing that all people have the light of God within and that no priestly intercession is needed for the divine to speak. Silent worship in Quaker meetings is seldom entirely silent, and individuals speak as they are moved to by the spirit.
The larger society perhaps adopted the practice of silent prayer in public gatherings because silence contains no statements or assumptions concerning beliefs. Since it 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. Today, the moment of silence is used to avoid offending people with religious pontification and to empower individuals to interpret the moment as they wish.
In the US colonial period, Pennsylvania Quakers did not worship together with non-Quakers, except those who might become converts. They were separatists and did not pray in ecumenical gatherings or in service to institutions.
In recent times the co-opting 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 in other plural societies. This is also the case within many secular institutions where diverse groups are expected to participate but not necessarily share beliefs - such as in government, schools, commercial companies and the military.
The use of a moment of silence to memorialize fallen soldiers or to allow private reflection in public schools, for example, was not introduced by Quakers themselves.
In United States schools
The U.S. Supreme Court ruled in 1962 that official organization, sponsorship, or endorsement of school prayer in public schools is forbidden by the First Amendment to the United States Constitution. 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 religion.
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?" 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 atheist groups and advocates, who argue that no non-religious purpose is served by designating an official moment of silence. 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. Others argued that the law was not enacted for a secular purpose, pointing to 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".
- Remembrance Day
- Separation of church and state in the United States
- Silent Minute
- Two-minute silence
- Vow of silence
- This is somewhat at odds with the fact that the Two Minute Silent Pause of Remembrance for the war dead had continued to be held daily in Cape Town until May 1919.
- "Debates Parlamentares - Diário 039, p. 2 (1912-02-13)". debates.parlamento.pt. Retrieved January 1, 2016.
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.
- Maitland, Sara (2010). A book of silence. Berkeley,Ca: Counterpoint. ISBN 9781619021426.
- "The little-known origin of the minute's silence". ABC News. November 8, 2018. Retrieved March 5, 2022.
- J.C.Abrahams (Tannie Mossie. "Cape Town's WWI Mayor - Sir Harry Hands" (PDF). Retrieved December 16, 2018.
- Harding, Eric (May 1965). Remembrance Day silence: First proposed by Edward George Honey, Australian journalist (Supplementing article by Mrs. M.F. Orford, Victorian Historical Magazine, November 1961). Melbourne: Eric Harding. OCLC 220250498.
- "A period of silence". Australian War memorial.
- "'Lest We Forget - A Tribute to the late Edward George Honey' by M. F. Orford". State Library Victoria. Victorian historical magazine 1961, Issue 126, pages 119-123. Retrieved November 14, 2018.
- "Hiroshima Peace Memorial Ceremony". Archived from the original on September 17, 2009. Retrieved February 28, 2022.
- Berlins, Marcel (September 11, 2007). "Marcel Berlins: Can applause really replace the minute's silence?". the Guardian. Retrieved March 13, 2022.
- הלפרין, אילן (January 8, 2011). "דקת הוקרה במקום דקת דומיה - גם בישראל?". Ynet (in Hebrew). Retrieved March 13, 2022.
- "Reagan Proposes School Prayer Amendment". The New York Times. May 18, 1982.
- "Address Before a Joint Session of the Congress on the State of the Union | the American Presidency Project".
- 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 July 15, 2012.
- "Code of Virginia § 22.1–203". Leg1.state.va.us. Archived from the original on October 21, 2000. Retrieved November 11, 2012.
- "Gotta Minute? – Virginia enacts minute of silence in schools". Current Events. January 26, 2001. Archived from the original on February 11, 2006.
- 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. Archived from the original on November 2, 2007.
- "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. Archived from the original (PDF) on August 4, 2004.
- "Virginia Senate OKs Schools' Moment of Silence". Aclu.org. February 1, 2000. Retrieved July 15, 2012.
- Nothing Really Matters, an article about the moment of silence by a Chabad rabbi
- Moment of Silence lawsuit in Texas
Website encourages schools in a Moment of Silence Momentofsilence.info
MOS rebranded as a drug prevention tool aQuietMoment.org