The last time I wrote about this subject was a year-and-a-half ago and I thought I was done…
Here’s what I wrote about the Mandatory Moment of Silence back then:
Last year, Illinois passed a Mandatory Moment of Silence and Prayer Act. After being sued, it was changed [to] a Voluntary Moment of Silence bill. Even that version was struck down as a “sham” by a judge.
That ruling was appealed over a year ago… and a verdict came in yesterday:
In its ruling Friday, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 7th Circuit ruled legislators who supported the bill said the moment of reflection had a secular and practical purpose in settling down students at the start of the school day.
You can read the entire ruling here (PDF).
That’s a very euphemistic way of phrasing it, by the way — a “moment of reflection”… The legislation is called “The Silent Reflection and Student Prayer Act” — there’s no subtlety there at all. This isn’t simply a moment of silence for everyone — which is unnecessary to begin with — It’s public school time being wasted so students can pray.
Not surprisingly, the Illinois Family Institute is thrilled:
… the thought of public schools providing even seven-seconds during which students could pray was too much for inveterate atheist Rob Sherman who, through his daughter, sued State Superintendent of Education, Christopher Koch, and Township High School District 214, alleging that Section I of the Silent Reflection and Student Prayer Act violated the Constitution.
Forget seven seconds. One second would be too much.
Public schools are not your personal churches.
There’s no reason to block out any class time so students can play Seven Seconds in Heaven with Jesus.
Atheist activist Rob Sherman, who initiated the original lawsuit with his daughter Dawn, says he expected this ruling all along because of the judges in question… though he waffles about the dissenting judge, as if he can’t even give her credit because it doesn’t play into his argument about who appointed the judges:
We knew, when we walked in the door of the Federal Courthouse on February 10th of this year, that we had no chance, based on the Reagan appointees that were assigned to hear the case.
One judge, Daniel Manion, was a graduate of the University of Notre Dame. He made his mark in politics by sponsoring legislation as an Indiana State Senator to require that the Ten Commandments be posted in every public school classroom in Indiana. We knew we had no chance with that guy.
The Opinion was written by Manion. What does that say about the credibility of the decision?
Another judge, Ken Ripple, is a professor at the law school of the University of Notre Dame. We all know how Notre Dame feels about the subject of prayer, so we knew that we had no chance with that guy, either.
The third judge was Ann Williams. She graduated from the law school of — guess where? — the University of Notre Dame and was appointed to the federal bench by — guess who? — Reagan, but she was appointed to the Appellate Court by Bill Clinton, so she dissented in the opinion.
Ripple and Manion composed the majority, and Manion said this in his opinion:
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.
Meanwhile, the sole dissenting judge, Ann Claire Williams, said this in her minority opinion:
The Act makes what I believe to be an unnecessary reference to prayer, signaling a predominantly religious purpose to the statute. And by enumerating prayer as one of only two specific permissible activities, the Act conveys a message that Illinois students should engage in prayer during the prescribed period as opposed to a host of other silent options. I have concluded that the purpose and effect of the Act is to encourage prayer in public schools…
I have difficulty with the idea that any reasonable person, reading the above (in, remember, a law called the “Silent Reflection and Student Prayer Act”), could come away with even the slightest impression that prayer might not be a permissible activity during the period of silence. In light of Section 5, there is simply no negative inference about prayer that needs to be rebutted.
I’m not a lawyer. But I can’t understand how Manion and Ripple don’t think the legislation’s “true purpose was to promote prayer” when prayer was right there in the title.
Sherman told the Chicago Tribune that he plans to appeal. I don’t really want to see this go to the Supreme Court at the moment, but I’m not sure what the alternatives are at this point.
While we’re at it, I also don’t get this hypocrisy from IFI:
The Illinois Family Institute (IFI) supported the Silent Reflection and Student Prayer Act, believing the legislation constitutes an affirmative step toward recognizing religious freedom in the public square which is protected by the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.
That was never an issue to begin with. Students can already pray all they want. No one is stopping them. (IFI admits this in the last phrase of that paragraph.)
Meanwhile, a couple months ago, when Illinois was trying to pass anti-bullying legislation for GLBT students, IFI felt very differently about laws that affirmed already-existing legislation:
Bullying in schools is a serious problem that must be addressed. In a misguided, poorly reasoned attempt to address it, Illinois legislators recently passed the disastrous “School Anti-Bullying Act” (SB 3266).
The problem of bullying did not necessitate any new state laws in that virtually every school in the state has more than adequate anti-bullying policy. The problem is not with a lack of policy, and the solution is certainly not this new, poorly constructed law.
So let me use IFI’s own words and say this:
The problem of silence and prayer did not necessitate any new state laws in that virtually every school in the state has more than adequate silence and prayer policies. The problem is not with a lack of policy, and the solution is certainly not this new, poorly constructed law.