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Education Reporter

Judge Rules Against Moment of Silence
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A federal district judge declared a law requiring a moment of silence at the beginning of the school day in Illinois unconstitutional. The law, the Illinois Silent Reflection and Student Prayer Act, requires public schools to allow students a brief time of silence to pray, meditate, or reflect on the day ahead of them. It passed in the Illinois General Assembly with bipartisan support.

"The statute is a subtle effort to force students at impressionable ages to contemplate religion," said U.S. District Judge Robert W. Gettleman in the ruling. Talk-radio show host Rob Sherman and his daughter Dawn filed the lawsuit challenging the statute.

Rob Sherman, who has described himself as "the best-known atheist-activist in the Midwest," has gone to court a number of times over issues related to religion in the public square. In 1989 he challenged an Illinois law requiring public school students to recite the Pledge of Allegiance. Sherman claimed the words "under God" made the Pledge of Allegiance unconstitutional in schools. Judge Gettleman ruled in Sherman's favor in two previous decisions related to moments of silence in school. In May 2008, Gettleman issued a preliminary injunction barring schools from carrying out the law.

Gettleman's most recent ruling implied that legislation requiring a moment of silence might be acceptable to him if it did not mention prayer as one possibility for what students might do during the moment of silence.

The American Civil Liberties Union had criticized the Silent Reflection and Student Prayer Act, and was pleased with the ruling. ACLU Senior Staff Counsel Adam Schwartz said the law "coerced children to pray as part of an organized activity in our public schools."

State Sen. Kimberly Lightford (D-Chicago), the legislation's chief sponsor, said she hoped Illinois' Attorney General, Lisa Madigan, would appeal Gettleman's ruling. "I strongly feel and I still believe that children should have a moment of silence at the beginning of the school day," said Lightford. (Associated Press, 1-22-09)

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