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June 13, 2014 7:19 am

How Prayer and Reflection Can Counter Gun Violence

avatar by Eliyahu Federman

Flowers for those who died in the Sandy Hook shootings. Photo: Wikipedia.

Earlier this week, another school shooting near Portland, Oregon, rocked this country. Tragically, the teen shooter killed another student and wounded a teacher, before taking his own life.

After school shootings such as this and the recent massacre in Isla Vista, communities hold prayer vigils to remember the victims, find solace and comfort amid these horrific tragedies. But why should prayer and reflection be reserved for after the fact? Perhaps we need to consider the role of reflection and prayer in preventing school tragedies not just responding to them?

Instituting a moment of silence and reflection in schools is not a new idea. Back in the early 1990s, Newt Gingrich discussed setting aside a voluntary moment of prayer during the school day. Later, the Arkansas legislature passed a “moment of silence” law after a suggestion by then-Governor Bill Clinton. As early as the 1980’s, Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson (1902-1994), head of the Chabad-Lubavitch movement, discussed a moment of silence before the school day as a method of addressing the underlying cause of school violence.

The day of the Portland school shooting, Harper Collins released a biography of Schneerson subtitled “the Most Influential Rabbi in Modern History,” written by Joseph Telushkin. The book is currently #1 on the Amazon Best Sellers list in the “Religious” and “Leadership” categories and on the B&N Top 20 Bestsellers. The book describes his view on why school prayer or a moment of silence is so critical to deterring juvenile delinquency.

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What children need to understand is that the world in which they live in is not a jungle, where brute force, cunning, and unbridled passion rule supreme, but that it has a Supreme Being who takes a “personal interest” in the affairs of each and every individual, and to Him everyone is accountable for [his or her] daily conduct.

In arguing against the potential for church and state entanglement issues when it comes to prayer in public schools, the Rebbe later suggested a moment of silence, because, unlike specific prayers, it allows one to contemplate and reflect on whatever values one chooses. Courts have indicated that a moment of silence would be constitutional if it is genuinely neutral. In Bown v. Gwinnett County School District, for example, the 11th Circuit ruled that a “Moment of Quiet Reflection” was permitted because it was “not intended to be… a religious service or exercise.”

So long as it’s not used as a pretext to advocate for a specific religion, or as a one-stop panacea ignoring, for example, the need to address mental health, integrating a moment of reflection in school curricula could be one method of inculcating universal values of civility over violence. There is even research which suggests that various meditative practices are correlated with decreased stress and even a decrease in crime.

If shooters Elliot Rodger and the unnamed teen in Portland were educated upon the foundation, of the Rebbe’s immortal words, that we don’t live in “a jungle, where brute force, cunning, and unbridled passion rule supreme” but where we have purpose and meaning in life, and are accountable to a higher authority, they may have not engaged in such senseless violence.

Eliyahu Federman is an executive at an e-commerce company. Follow him on twitter@EliFederman. This article was originally published by USA Today.

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