THERE IS NOTHING in the city's laws that prohibits anyone in the District of Columbia's public schools from thinking private thoughts -- and that includes praying silently. Yet the Rev. Jerry A. Moore Jr., a Baptist minister and a member of D.C. Council, wants this "right" somehow written into law so that teachers and pupils can pray or meditate together during public school time. However convoluted the wording, this still amounts to a sanctioning of public school time -- and that means public school money -- for prayer or for whatever else students may decide to do silently instead. Because this is unnecessary, wasteful and offensive -- and never mind whether its wording gets it by Supreme Court prohibitions -- the bill should be dropped.

The city's public school system already has its hands full trying to do what it is supposed to do: offer the best possible education for any child in the city. And as public school families are finding out all too well, that mission is constantly frustrated by financial and political limitations. If there is no time or money for a first-class academic schedule that includes the basics as well as useful studies of foreign languages, art or music, why should classroom time be set aside for so-called "silent periods"?

It should not be a question, then, of whether Mr. Moore's bill is constitutional, as council member David A. Clarke has tentatively concluded, nor whether the bill's title, "Prayer in the Schools," is a "misnomer," as council member Charlene Drew Jarvis has concluded. For that matter, the council shouldn't be usurping school policy-making authority that legally rests with the school board in the first place. Mr. Moore would do the city schools a service by withdrawing his bill.