Federal judge rules Illinois school 'moment of silence' law unconstitutional

[JURIST] A judge for the US District Court for the Northern District of Illinois [official website] on Wednesday ruled [opinion, PDF] that an Illinois state law requiring a moment of silence in public schools is unconstitutional. Judge Robert Gettleman held that the Illinois Silent Reflection and Student Prayer Act [text], which requires state schools to observe a moment of silence each day, is an unconstitutional endorsement of religion in public schools. In issuing a permanent injunction against the law's enforcement, Gettleman wrote:

the Statute has the effect, as discussed above, to compel every classroom teacher to ensure that each student consider prayer as one of the two options to observe during the period of silence. The conclusion is inescapable that this is precisely what the General Assembly intended. The Statute is a subtle effort to force students at impressionable ages to contemplate religion.
The law has not been enforced since May, when Gettleman issued a preliminary injunction in response to a suit filed by high school student Dawn Sherman and her father Rob Sherman [advocacy website].

The use of prayer, moments of silence, or religious references in public schools has been highly contested. In July, the US Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit upheld [JURIST report] part of a Florida law that requires students in grades kindergarten through 12 to obtain parental permission before they can be excused from reciting the Pledge of Allegiance [JURIST news archive]. In 2005, a federal judge in San Francisco ruled [JURIST report] that the recitation of the Pledge of Allegiance in public schools with the language "under God" is unconstitutional.


 

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