Federal Court Strikes Down Illinois School Prayer “Moment of Silence” Law

Filed in National by on January 22, 2009

Another blow to the school prayer crowd was delivered in federal court yesterday, as the Illinois Silent Reflection and Student Prayer Act was ruled unconstitutional by U.S. District Judge Robert W. Gettleman.

The “teacher is required to instruct her pupils, especially in the lower grades, about prayer and its meaning as well as the limitations on their ‘reflection,’” Gettleman ruled.

“The plain language of the statute, therefore, suggests and intent to force the introduction of the concept of prayer into the schools,” he said.

The words “Student Prayer” are right in the title of the act, so I’d wager it’s pretty obvious what the act was intended to do: encourage students to pray. Telling children when they should pray is just as bad as telling them who they should pray to. Would you want children to be instructed to face Mecca when they pray, or reflect silently? This law would have schools not only tell children when they should pray, but also at what volume. I don’t understand how any religious person could accept the idea of secular teachers (who could be evangelicals, Mormons, Catholics, Muslims, Jews, Buddhists, Wiccans, atheists, etc) telling their children when and how to pray.

And before you start talking about the Religious Right, know that this legislation is the brainchild of a Chicago Democrat.

State Sen. Kimberly Lightford, D-Chicago, the chief sponsor of the legislation, said she hoped Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan would appeal.

“I strongly feel and I still believe that children should have a moment of silence at the beginning of the school day,” she said in a telephone interview from Washington, D.C., where she celebrated the inauguration of President Obama.

Students need books, computers, art, music, qualified teachers, extracurricular activities, safety, and parent involvement in their education. A moment of silence is vastly less important, and if parents feel their children it, they can do it before they leave for school. Muslims pray 5 times a day; the first is at sunrise (before students get to school in warmer months) and the second is after noon. So I can imagine having an extra prayer slot prescribed for them by the state might feel pretty uncomfortable.

There is nothing stopping students from praying in school; you should see some of them on a test-taking day. Let’s face it – this isn’t about religious parents wanting their children to be able to pray, this is about religious people wanting all (or most) students to pray and become more religious.

And if my future children ever find themselves at a public school in which they are instructed to “pray or remain silent”, I will encourage them to sing their prayers out loud, in Hebrew, until the teacher throws them out of the room.

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X Stryker is also the proprietor of the currently-dormant poll analysis blog Election Inspection.

Comments (69)

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  1. nemski says:

    What a freaking idiot.

    The sponsor says, I strongly feel and I still believe that children should have a moment of silence at the beginning of the school day.

    My wife teaches nursery school and the moment of silence is called Circle Time.

    My boy is in 5th grade and the moment of silence is called Home Room.

  2. anon says:

    The claim that God, the Bible, or prayer are banned from public schools is wingnut propaganda of “Big Lie” proportions.

  3. Kilroy says:

    Gee I wonder when the government will take “In God We Trust” off our currency! Didn’t Markell take his oath of office on a bible? The Red Clay School Board last night requested a monument of silence and “prayer” for a young elementary student who died from a brain tumor! Maybe the erosion of the morals in this country and government is due to lack of reasonable expression of faith in a way that isn’t harmful to others. God is one as being the Supreme Being in all faiths and those who don’t believe shouldn’t take offense as God is no existent to them.

    However, there is nothing stopping any child form take a personal monument of silence during the day!

  4. xstryker says:

    Shorter Kilroy:

    There is nothing stopping any child form take a personal monument of silence during the day, so I agree with X Stryker 100%.

  5. Von Cracker says:

    I guess this falls in line with putting away childish things, right?

    Anyway, as Hitch or Dawkins or whomever said…There’s no such thing as a christian or jewish or muslim child; it’s just a child of christian or jewish of muslim parents.

    Personally, I can’t wait for the time when our world’s societies come up with another kind of scare tactic, because the whole unprovable-force-will-take-a-big-shit-on-you-if-you-don’t-follow-our his-rules BS is getting sooooo played out.

  6. anon says:

    Reading Kilroy is like listening to jazz.

  7. MJ says:

    Prayer belongs in the home, church, synagogue, mosque, or temple. It does not belong in school.

    So Jack used a bible. Probably a family bible. Is his oath still valid since he used the Pentateuch and not the King James Version? President Obama retook his oath (after CJ Roberts screwed it up) without using a bible. Ridiculous argument, Kilroy.

    KilJoy (and those of your ilk) – stop forcing your religious dogma on the public.

  8. Nooneimportant says:

    MJ- I doubt Markell’s Bible was a family bible, at least not his family–as he is Jewish.

  9. nemski says:

    I’m no expert on Judiasm, but I believe they do have something equivalent to the Christian Bible called the Tanakh.

    Please correct me if I am wrong.

  10. MJ says:

    Unimportant – I know Jack is Jewish – he worshiped with us down here in Rehoboth at our JCC. So are you saying that because Jack is Jewish he cannot have a family bible? I’m Jewish and I have one. It was one my grandfather, may he rest in peace, received at his Bar Mitzvah in 1894.

  11. MJ says:

    You’ve got it Nemski. Tanakh, Chumash, Pentateuch, Bible – these are the Five Books of Moses.

  12. Susan Regis Collins says:

    Always remember that you have the right (thanks to the Quakes)to ‘affirm’ when taking an oath and this requires no book of any kind.

    When using a Bible/book you are swearing to God that you’ll do the right thing. When you affirm you are saying that your word is righteous….no need for any interception here.

    As to prayer in the schools. It is my opinion that anyone who pushes this agenda is unAmerican. We have a separtation of church/state tenent that is clearly stated and is the law of the land.

  13. pandora says:

    I am so sick of this praying nonsense. Everyone knows what they are trying to do – convert. Next stop after a moment of silence? Organized prayer.

    I’m rapidly running out of tolerance for the intolerant. Let them all home school – bet if they did test scores would rise. ;-)

  14. Kilroy says:

    MJ
    KilJoy (and those of your ilk) – stop forcing your religious dogma on the public.

    I am from the body of Christ and shall spread the news that Jesus has returned and if you want to see him just look into the eyes of the poor and those in despair. Deny them and you will be denying Christ!

    We are the keepers of the glorious garden and must defend our children from the serpents.

    The reference to Markell and the Bible was to point out the relationship between God and Governemt! Such a strange ritual entering into government but not part of government!

  15. pandora says:

    About a year ago I served on a jury and affirmed rather than swearing on the Bible. Oh, the looks I received! Good times.

  16. Dorian Gray says:

    The difference – as VC alluded to – is that BHO, Markell, etc took oaths as adults – and based on traditions they themselves are able to understand (and accept or reject). I know atheists who would repeat a benediction or say a grace prior to a meal. But they understand it as a meaningless tradition because they came to a mature conclusion. This school prayer rubbish is Christian indoctrination. Why not teach comparative religions… so school kids can see everything side by side and notice how ridiculous they all are.

  17. cassandra_m says:

    The prayer in school or even mandatory moment of silence crowd is interested only in a performance space — not in the business of prayer itself. If you are a kid of a family that prays, you know how to do that in the couple of seconds before class, between class, before a test or whenever. In all of my years in Catholic schools, I know for a fact that it takes a nanosecond to say a Hail Mary.

    All bets are off, though, for the kids who need to make a sacrifice to their orishas.

  18. Dorian Gray says:

    Were K’s comments on #14 for real? If so I contend (s)he is clearly mentally ill. Also, it proves Pandora and mine’s point about conversion/ indoctrination. If not – I didn’t get the joke. My apologies.

    P – Funny – I was on a jury recently to and decided to swear on the bible. Upon reflection I determined that the “affirmation” was for the superstitious who wouldn’t “swear” on skydad’s book. I don’t share that particular affliction so I swore away.

  19. anon says:

    “I believe that everyone has the right to their own religion, be you Hindu, Muslim, or Jewish. I believe there are infinite paths to accepting Jesus Christ as your personal savior.” – Colbert

  20. xstryker says:

    I wonder if a person could get sworn in on a Kindle? Or an iPhone, with a relevent biblical passage on screen.

    Or a printout.

    Or, for a blind man, an audio recording.

  21. anon says:

    Many people worship their iPods.

  22. Kilroy says:

    Dorian Gray
    “Were K’s comments on #14 for real? If so I contend (s)he is clearly mentally ill”

    Chill just being sarcastic !However expression of religion is also an expression of free speech! If a child verbally says a pray before his lunch it’s an expression of free speech and has nothing to do with separation of church and state as the child is not representative of neither!

    Yes I am mentally ill !

    Helter Skelter, “I was only listening to the music” Charles Manson

  23. MJ says:

    Just remember, the last time we mixed religion & politics, people were burned at the stake.

  24. pandora says:

    That’s one of my favorite lines, MJ!

  25. Reis says:

    We also got Mother Theresa, MJ. Easy on the ‘black & white’ outlook there, big fella.

  26. Unstable Isotope says:

    I’m glad for this ruling, but I wonder what the court of Scalia/Thomas/Alito/Roberts will do with it. I guess I don’t understand the people who are personally offended if you don’t believe exactly what they believe. Not wanting to be forced to pray at school is not a religious issue. There are plenty of religious people who think that religion is best in the private sphere.

  27. cassandra_m says:

    UI makes a really good point that not all religious people want to fight this battle.

    On the other hand, it strikes me that there is more energy and resources thrown at school prayer than there is in making sure that your kids have the reading skills to read the Bible, or whatever your religious text is.

  28. Dorian Gray says:

    Re: #22 – K – Once again my apologies. Sarcasm – fair enough.

    Also, the free speech argument can be made for any utterance but just because it is protected free speech doesn’t make it sane or logical or true.

    Anyone can pray pretty much anytime one wishes… but it can’t be mandated by gov’t fiat.

  29. pandora says:

    Agreed, and it’s funny how most of these “prayer in school” groups also belong to the “less government” brigade.

  30. MJ says:

    Reis, what does Mother Theresa have to do with prayer in school? I think she was a great woman who did great things, but I don’t see how she fits in with this thread. Enlighten us.

  31. Reis says:

    You got a mouse in your pocket, MJ? Who the hell is ‘us’? Or are you royalty who speaks of yourself in the third-person, plural as titular head of a government?

  32. Kilroy says:

    Dorian Gray
    “Anyone can pray pretty much anytime one wishes… but it can’t be mandated by gov’t fiat.”

    Ok fair enough the jury rest! Pray is an individual right protect by free speech but must not be force upon by those within the confines of government!

  33. Unstable Isotope says:

    Pandora,

    The “less government” crowd has always been interested in using government to save your soul. That’s why the GOP always confused me, because they talked about “less government” yet fought for womb control, bedroom peeping and enforcing religion. The less government part seemed to mean “less taxes.”

  34. Dorian Gray says:

    Since it was mentioned… Mother Theresa was a despicable human being who thought poverty was somehow a glorified and pious state of being and worked to keep the suffering and impoverished from ever improving their condition.

    Additionally. she used her Nobel speak to call birth control the world’s greatest evil. Of all the evils. … what a cunt.

    Read Hitch’s “The Missionary Position”.

    Consider yourself enlightened.

  35. Kilroy says:

    Dorian Gray
    “and worked to keep the suffering and impoverish from ever improving their condition.”

    A nurse not a doctor!

  36. Reis says:

    Jesus Christ said poverty was a glorious and pious state. “It is harder for a rich man to enter Heaven then a camel to pass through the eye of a needle.”

  37. Reis says:

    Actually, don’t really give a crap about the above, just think MJ is a pretentious, pompous, crotch-pheasant. Giving her(or her) a hard time is pleasurable.

  38. David says:

    The ruling contradicts both federal law and higher court rulings. The law passes the Lemon test. It will be overturned if an appeal is filed..

  39. nemski says:

    Reis wrote Actually, don’t really give a crap about the above, just think MJ is a pretentious, pompous, crotch-pheasant. Giving her(or her) a hard time is pleasurable.

    Then I guess you don’t mind if I start deleting your comments.

  40. Reis says:

    Not at all, cupcake.

  41. xstryker says:

    David – it doesn’t pass the Lemon test in my book.

    The government’s action must have a secular legislative purpose;
    The government’s action must not have the primary effect of either advancing or inhibiting religion;
    The government’s action must not result in an “excessive government entanglement” with religion.

    I find it questionable on the first test and majestically failing the second. I’m sure Roberts, Scalia, Alito, and Thomas will see it your way, but Kennedy and the liberal justices will not.

  42. Kilroy says:

    nemski
    “Then I guess you don’t mind if I start deleting your comments.”

    Wait wait stop don’t delete it! Aren’t you a democrat for open government and all that!
    Relax cook the muskrat 30 minutes a little longer!

  43. Dorian Gray says:

    Oh the bible says Jesus said it.. case dismissed. That’s the rationale discourse killer… Jesus said it.

  44. Joanne Christian says:

    What a chuckle…couldn’t think to use that moment to run thru a “to do” list for the day, or a little self-guided imagery of spelling words, maybe a cleansing breath or two—but NO–there goes that baby with the bath water again. If anything, I would think people would find a “moment of silence”a bit of a respite, and less offensive than the “Pledge of Allegiance”. Oh well. One more round of church/state confusion, and reinterpretations of reinterpretations. Some folks just don’t have enough things to do in a day, to worry about a moment of undesignated silence. Just let me know when the correct response to a sneeze is decided–wouldn’t want to outright offend anyone.

  45. nemski says:

    Kilroy, I’m not deleting, but I’m tiring of comments that have nothing to do with the thread. I spend half the day deleting Jason330 comments as it is. ;-)

  46. Reis says:

    I didn’t know you were the Irrelevant Police. Apologies all around.

  47. Unstable Isotope says:

    Joanne if you read above you’ll see that the moment was not undesignated.

  48. jason330 says:

    I was wondering where my insights on the merits of capers in lieu of anchovies on caesar salad went.

  49. Reis says:

    That argument is pure trickery; the answer is “both”.

  50. xstryker says:

    Weak argument, Joanne. “Awww, what’s the harm?” I wonder if you’d say the same if the government mandated all businesses to do the same. After all, if it’s OK for children, then it’s OK for adults, right? Nothing wrong with watching awkwardly as all your muslim coworkers break out their prayer mats and face Mecca, while you sit at your desk praying to Jesus (or whoever, or no one)? Oh, but gosh, you can’t imagine yourself in such a situation.

    It’s always the people who’ve never been a religious minority who have no idea that religious peer pressure exists. Really, just imagine being the only person in the room not facing Mecca.

  51. jason330 says:

    I think Joanne could argue that she is in a religious minority. I’m not saying it would be a valid argument, but she could argue it.

  52. Joanne Christian says:

    UI and stryker, I don’t see why Gettleman or whoever says teachers are expected or required to instruct the lower grades the manner and option of prayer–if that is the subtext of that law, then out it goes–but “moment of silence” ?

    xstryker again-oh you’d be surprised the minority positions I’ve found myself in, and just roll along in a spirit of tolerance and courtesy. Guess, it might just be a little too much to ask for a “private moment” in return. The business example you give is flawed. Employees do get paid and unpaid breaks; and I personally have given Mecca time esp. with Ramaddan observance–off the clock. Children need to be guided or instructed with what to do with a silent moment–so big deal, if you throw out options or suggestions like “think happy thoughts”, “review your school play lines”, “take deep breaths”, “say a prayer”, “review today’s schedule”, “imagine success”. “take a walk on a beach”. What a tempest in a teapot! It’s a very intolerant view of what was meant to be an inclusive, non-threatening practice. Maybe a few word tweeks needed?

  53. jason330 says:

    Tweeks can be made, but the law promotes religiosity and Christian religiosity at that. It is at best unproductive, at worst confrontational and unconstitutional.

    This seems like the Nashville English as Official Language discussion.

    The right has their bloody shirts and they can’t stop waving them because entire industries depend on getting conservatives cows to moo.

  54. xstryker says:

    Well, the Democratic state senator who introduced the bill is a African American woman in the Chicago area, who grew up in a predominatly black, predominantly Catholic town. Christians of all denominations and races are often members of the religious majority in their own community.

    To me, different Christian denominations pray similarly enough to be considered part of the same majority (unless Charismatics feel compelled to speak in tongues during their moment of silence – I can imagine that would draw some stares).

    Regardless, the point holds – imagine yourself facing west when everyone else in the room is facing east. Imagine doing it every day.

  55. Truth Teller says:

    Kilroy do you still believe in the Naked lady and the snake. and that Noah got all those beast on that boat????? And that angles come down from heaven and knock up women????

  56. xstryker says:

    It’s a very intolerant view of what was meant to be an inclusive, non-threatening practice. Maybe a few word tweeks needed?

    I sympathize, Joanne, but the specifics of this case illustrate the problem. The bill actually replaced a previous “Moment of Silence” bill, which allowed schools, if they chose, to enact a moment of silence. The replacement bill amended it to make it MANDATORY, and explicitly changed the wording to say “School Prayer AND Silent Reflection” – so it isn’t simply moment-of-silence, it’s silent-prayer-time-or-silent-reflect-if-you-prefer.

    Wording tweak needed? Well, they passed one in the state House, specifically to reverse back to the previous bill, eliminating “Prayer” from the wording and removing the MANDATORY requirement. When this bill went to the state Senate, the sponsor of the “Student Prayer” version intentionally cosponsored it for the purpose of killing it in committee, which she did.

    A school can tell children to be silent whenever it wants to. It should not tell them to pray, whether they allow students to opt our or not.

  57. Joanne Christian says:

    xstryker-you have more history of the genesis of this bill than me–so to know it was ALREADY amended to include prayer in the title is suspect for all that some may fear. To that I do respectfully concede.
    Now, let me go take a moment.

  58. kilroy says:

    Truth Teller
    “Kilroy do you still believe in the Naked lady and the snake.”

    Look ,I don’t know how you know my exwife but please show a little respect!

    “And that angles come down from heaven and knock up women????”

    Are you saying God came down and screwed Mary while her husband stood by with a stone tablet chiseling a picture? How dare you!

    Just remember in your dying moments of life don’t be calling out for God! You won’t get in heaven either and most likely you’ll be sent to hell to hear Jason rant for a 1000 years!

    There is a God and his gift to all of you is me!

  59. anonone says:

    Instead of a moment of silence, they should have a moment of science. The world would be a better place.

    When was the last time disagreements among scientists started a war?

  60. kilroy says:

    anonone
    “When was the last time disagreements among scientists started a war?”

    The Manhattan Project!

  61. cassandra_m says:

    The Manhattan Project was conceived well after the war started and certainly the scientists weren’t the belligerents — it was governments looking for technological advantage.

  62. cassandra_m says:

    And that angles come down from heaven and knock up women????

    TT, I’ve sat through alot of geometry and trigonometry in my life and I’ve never heard of this kind of behavior by angles. I’m guaranteeing that there are all kinds of math prizes for whoever comes up with a proof of this. :razz:

  63. anonone says:

    I can only assume you’re joking, Kilroy.

  64. Joanne Christian says:

    Good one anon1 #59!!

  65. kilroy says:

    cassandra_m // Jan 22, 2009 at 8:28 pm

    “The Manhattan Project was conceived well after the war started and certainly the scientists weren’t the belligerents — it was governments looking for technological advantage.”

    The scientists knew dam well the destruction they were building and by that time Japan had no air defense and conventional wepons could have done the job. The war ended and up went the Iron Curtain and the cold war! For every reaction there is a reaction! Hench the spread of nuclear weapons and the day will come for the war that “does” end all wars!

    anonone
    “I can only assume you’re joking, Kilroy.”

    We question religion which is more psychological but does help with some sense of human compassion among us but in reality man is the creator of his surrounding world but yet with such knowledge and power he is foolish enough to cause his own extinction.

    I am the town idiot by yet my distortion to some may be absurd but yet there is relevance.

    If God is the creator of man he was wise not to create more on the surrounding planets. Either man is one of God’s creations that failed or we are a freak of nature that evolved through evolution.

    Forgive me as my GED does not give me the intellectual ability to think in a more defined way!

  66. cassandra_m says:

    The scientists knew dam well the destruction they were building and by that time Japan had no air defense and conventional wepons could have done the job. The war ended and up went the Iron Curtain and the cold war! For every reaction there is a reaction! Hench the spread of nuclear weapons and the day will come for the war that “does” end all wars!

    They certainly did build the weapons and improve on the weapons and their destructive capability. But they didn’t light the fire, which was A1′s point. Not unlike soldiers sent to the front of the folks left behind making tanks and ships, they were playing their part — but they did not start it or escalate it.

  67. Unstable Isotope says:

    I’d be happy with a required moment of science.

  68. cassandra_m says:

    So would I.

    I suspect it would still be more than alot of them get in class.

  69. Kilroy says:

    cassandra_m
    “But they didn’t light the fire, which was A1’s point. Not unlike soldiers sent to the front of the folks left behind making tanks and ships, they were playing their part — but they did not start it or escalate it.”

    “Yes, that was A1′s”

    Yes, “it was governments looking for technological advantage.”

    Back to orginal subject!

    xstryker
    “The replacement bill amended it to make it MANDATORY, and explicitly changed the wording to say “School Prayer AND Silent Reflection”

    Well this is where the government is screwing up by even suggesting using a moment of silence for pray in public schools. Silent reflection seems also suggestive.

    It’s all kind of dumb anyhow because, do your praying at home or on the way to school. Also, there is a time in each student’s day to take a moment of silence. If they want to say grace before eating their lunch that is their right even out loud.

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