Illinois Moment-Of-Silence Law Blocked By Court

A federal judge has halted enforcement of an Illinois law that requires public schools to hold a moment of silence every morning.

In mid-November, U.S. District Judge Robert W. Gettleman said the law, called the Silent Reflection and Student Prayer Act, is vague and raises serious First Amendment issues.

“[T]he statute is vague as to what activities are permitted during the period of silence,” wrote Gettleman in a preliminary injunction. “It seems to the court, from the representations made by counsel, … that pupils would be permitted to pray silently at their desks. But would a Muslim pupil be permitted to kneel on a prayer rug on the floor? Would a pupil be permitted to look at a Bible? Would a pupil whose religion requires chanting be permitted to pray, even though doing so would not be ‘silent’? Because of the statute’s vagueness, the court is also concerned about possible violations of pupils’ rights under the Free Exercise Clause.”

The law was enacted in October, after the Illinois legislature overrode a veto by Gov. Rod Blagojevich. The governor had cited concerns over the separation of church and state. The law mandates that the state’s public schools “observe a brief period of silence with the participation of all the pupils” and that the period “shall be an opportunity for silent prayer or for silent reflection on the anticipated activities of the day.”

Rob Sherman whose daughter attends a high school in Arlington Heights, lodged the lawsuit.

Barry W. Lynn, executive director of Americans United, lauded Gettleman’s action, telling USA Today, “The judge understands that there is no motive for a moment of silence except a religious one.”