Federal appeals court upholds Illinois school 'moment of silence' law

[JURIST] The US Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit [official website] on Friday upheld [opinion, PDF] the constitutionality of an Illinois statute mandating a daily moment of silence in public schools. The court rejected arguments that the Illinois Reflection and Silent Prayer Act [text] violated the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment [text] by encouraging prayer in public schools, reversing an April 2009 ruling [JURIST report] by the US District Court for the Northern District of Illinois [official website]. Judge Daniel Manion relied on the Lemon Test [text] in determining that the Illinois statute had a secular legislative purpose that neither advanced or inhibited religion:

The Illinois legislature had a secular purpose in passing Section 1, namely mandating a period of silence to calm school children before the start of their day. There is no evidence that the secular purpose is a sham and that Illinois's true purpose was to promote prayer. And there is nothing impermissible about clarifying that students may pray during that time period. Section 1 also does not advance or inhibit religion (or specific religions that practice momentary silent prayer), but rather mandates only a period of silence. There is also no state entanglement with religion. Therefore, Section 1 satisfies the Lemon test and Sherman's First Amendment challenge fails. Sherman's vagueness challenge also fails because Section 1 is not unconstitutionally vague in all of its operations.
The challenge was initially brought by Dawn Sherman and her father, Rob Sherman in 2007. Following Friday's decision, Rob Sherman warned on his website [advocacy website] that the "war" to overturn the statute will continue.

This case is the most recent development in the ongoing debate concerning free speech and the Establishment Clause in public schools. Last week, the US Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit ruled [JURIST report] that the words "one state under God" in the Texas Pledge of Allegiance [text; JURIST news archive] do not violate the Constitution. Earlier this year, the US Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit ruled [JURIST post] that a teacher-led recitation of the national Pledge of Allegiance in public schools does not violate the constitution. In 2008, the US Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit upheld [JURIST report] the constitutionality of requiring students through grade 12 to obtain parental permission before being excused from the Pledge of Allegiance. In 2005, a federal judge in Sacramento upheld the unconstitutionality of the recitation of the Pledge of Allegiance which included the words 'under God' [JURIST report].

 

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