What do you think about prayer in public gatherings? In your opinion, how does prayer differ from a moment of silence?
I believe that prayer and "moments of silence" are two different things. When someone is praying, they are speaking to God or whoever their supreme deity is. I believe that "moments of silence" are geared more towards showing respect.
I also believe that prayer in public gatherings is acceptable so long as it is not disrespectful or forced upon anyone else.
In my mind, the difference between prayer and a moment of silence goes to the fundamental issue of allowing an individual a sphere of negative freedom, the right to be left alone. In a moment of silence, the individual is able to retreat to their negative freedom, their inner citadel to quote Sir Isaiah Berlin, and pursue any path they wish. For example, a moment of silence is something that allows individuals to pursue whatever path they choose as there is little public intrusion into this realm. I believe that this goes away to a certain extent when there is a public call to prayer. For one thing, whose prayer is being invoked? When one religious form of prayer is called out, others are, by definition, silenced. At the same time, any prayer called out silences those who are agnostic or atheistic. The call to prayer might be where, in the public realm, individuals' sense of negative freedom is somewhat negotiated.
I think a period of silence is a very appropriate mark of respect for public outpourings of support or grief as it is an excellent compromise between doing nothing or doing something which is bound to offend or insult some people - given that it is impossible to please all of the people all of the time. This is especially true of religion. In a few minutes of silence, everyone stops what they are doing for a while to remember something or someone important - it is up to each individual person what goes on in that thouightful time so everyone can do what they feel is appropriate for them in a very private way without upsetting anyone else. So it could be a Christian prayer, a Muslim appeal to God, a private reflection or even a poem.
Being raised as a Christian, I remember prayer in public gatherings as a common occurrence during the 1960s and 1970s. However, with the advent of "political correctness," I fully understand that it offends atheists, agnostics and people of other religious faiths. With that in mind, it probably should not be included in public activities. A moment of silence should never offend anyone, however, since even non-religious people should be able to use this short period to reflect upon something important in their lives.
I do find it interesting that many people (including the previous post) see a difference between prayer and other symbolic commentary, such as the pledge of allegiance or "The Star-Spangled Banner." I'm sure many people could find a personal reason not to recite the pledge or to stand for the national anthem--or to be angry about their inclusion at the same type of public events in which prayer is banned--but such a politically incorrect view is not held in high enough regard to stop their useage. School children recite the pledge each day (and some schools even punish children who refuse to stand or be civil during this time); the national anthem is played at most sporting events. It seems to say that Americans must be required to show pride in their nation but that we should not publicly honor our religious beliefs. There really is a thin line between these two thoughts, IMO.
I agree completely with the first answer as to the difference between prayer and a moment of silence.
Where I differ with the first answer is over the first paragraph of his answer. I have no real objection to prayers to open Congressional meetings, things like that. I only have problems with prayers being ordered by authority figures in settings where there are young kids.
If the people are adults, they can just keep silent during the prayer and not be hurt by it as adults are not so prone to peer pressure as kids are.
I just don't like the idea of kids being told to pray and then feeling pressured to do so.
I have no problem with prayer in any setting, given that it is an individual's choice and expression of their religion is protected under the first amendment. What I have trouble with is when such prayer is part of a publicly-funded, government sponsored setting such as a high school graduation or as part of court or congressional proceedings.
The guideline for the first amendment legally is that government will neither sponsor nor prohibit the exercise of religion. That means people who wish to pray as their own decision cannot be interfered with, while at the same time the government cannot introduce or ask for a prayer in any setting paid for with public funding. Mostly my opinion here, but one that is backed up by most court decisions.
As for a moment of silence, the government is not sponsoring any one religion by doing so, and therefore a Muslim, or a Buddhist, or a Christian could all offer prayers as they see fit, without being told to do so by the government.