Moment of Silence and Prayer Back in Play in Illinois

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.

Umm… right. How about we stick to the whole separation of church and state idea since we’re on the right side of that issue.

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.

  • Donna Lafferty

    An enterprising non-theistic student might use that moment of silence to hold up a copy of “The God Delusion” or some kind of sign talking about the separation of church and state. Nothing in the statute prevents that, does it?

  • Michael

    A funny/strange thing happened to me the other day. I went to a home-owners meeting in my 55+ Community on thursday, and as with all of these types of meetings, it started with the Pledge of Alligence, and a moment of silence for Americas fallen Soldiers. during the Pledge, I always leave out the words ‘Under god’ when I recite it myself. When it was over, three of my neighbors said to me…..that the ‘Pledge’ included the words ‘UNDER god’….. and that I should say it correctly, or shut up!!! My answer to them was……. ”When I learned the Pledge way back in 1950 those words were not in the pledge, & that they didn’t belong there now!” I got several dirty looks. These same people, my ‘friends’ were not so critical later on,however, when I recorded the meeting’s minutes on my ‘Smart Phone’… and several of these same people asked me to send them the recordings to their computers. Selflessly I did, not pointing out to them that Smart phones existed for them too… and that their ‘imaginary’ god had nothing to do with that either.

  • Michelle

    One more reason to be frustrated with IL.

  • http://miketheinfidel.blogspot.com/ MikeTheInfidel

    There is no evidence that the secular purpose is a sham and that Illinois’s true purpose was to promote prayer.

    Apart from it BEING IN THE TITLE OF THE BILL? COME ON! Even if there’s nothing else in the bill suggesting that the moment of silence be used for prayer, the title alone will communicate what it’s really all about. You can bet this will be tossed around in the Christian radio circuit as a victory where a prayer bill survived our godless court system.

    Any bill with the word “prayer” in the title that gets passed does so with a nod and a wink at the faithful while claiming to be secular.

  • Maliknant

    Hmmm. Someone ought to propose legislation to prevent Christians from praying in public places, making sure to include the relevant passages from the Bible about keeping prayer private in the actual legislation.

    It’d be lotsa fun watching those Christians vote down a bill that has a rock-solid biblical basis!

  • frank

    I doubt the supreme court will take the case. In 2000 Virginia passed a similar law requiring a moment of silence in all public schools. That law was upheld by a vote of two to one by the appeals court, just like here. The supreme court refused to hear that case, and I can’t think of anything that changed between then and now that would cause them to take this case.

  • Lisa

    My daughters school, here in Texas, has a moment of silence as well. It really doesn’t bother me as long as they don’t call it prayer and force the children to bow their heads and pray. I do hate the pledge and keep telling my daughter to say “under dog”, but she says to me, “Mom, just because I say ‘under god’ doesn’t mean I believe in god.” She’s 8 years old.

  • Katie

    “Someone ought to propose legislation to prevent Christians from praying in public places, making sure to include the relevant passages from the Bible about keeping prayer private in the actual legislation.”

    Maliknant,
    As entertaining as it would be to watch the Christians practice their hypocracy; do you really have to be reminded that IMMEDIATELY after the U.S. Constitution states “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion”, it states “or prohibiting the free exercise thereof”?

    Is it right to have “prayer” in the title? No.

    Is prohibiting the practice of religion anti-American? Yes.

  • Robert

    Maliknant,

    If you are referring to Matthew 6;6 you are taking it out of context and ignoring the other passages of the Bible that call for Christian to get together in prayer with one another. (Luke 1:10 and acts 1:14 for example) Matthew 6:6 was referring to people who sat out in public and prayed solely for all to see as hypocrites. Jesus was teaching that you should prayer in earnest with conviction and not like those who fake it in public. He was not saying that Christians should never prayer in public.

    As for the law itself, how is making a moment of silence and even prayer, the establishment of a religion? A child could “pray” to the holy Ipod if he wanted to or not pray at all. there is nothing it appears in the bill to require prayer, much less Christian prayer. Since that is not in the law, then the court was correct in its ruling.

  • Steve

    It’s a bit unfair to blame the judges for being Reagan appointees. Most of the judges who struck down anti-gay laws in recent months were in fact appointed by Reagan.

    The criticism of their university and their past trial record is of course valid.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100000586562927 muggle

    Christian to get together in prayer with one another. (Luke 1:10 and acts 1:14 for example) Matthew 6:6 was referring to people who sat out in public and prayed solely for all to see as hypocrites. Jesus was teaching that you should prayer in earnest with conviction and not like those who fake it in public. He was not saying that Christians should never prayer in public.

    Since when is forcing public prayer doing what your quote says? Please note the empahsis I added since it seems to have gotten by you when you quoted. Forced public prayer is exactly the kind of hypocritical shit Jesus was protesting. If you’re right and I’m wrong, you’d better worry about insulting your god by refusing to use the brain he gave you.

    As for the law itself, how is making a moment of silence and even prayer, the establishment of a religion?

    Because mandating prayer, a religious act even if you are praying to your i-pod, is mandating religion. Really, seriously, you believe God gave you a brain. Use it.

  • Robert W.

    Muggle,

    I am using my brain just fine. Nowhere in the law does it mandate any child pray.

    Here it is:

    SB1463 Enrolled LRB095 09404 NHT 29600 b

    AN ACT concerning education.

    Be it enacted by the People of the State of Illinois,
    represented in the General Assembly:

    Section 5. The Silent Reflection and Student Prayer Act is
    amended by changing Section 1 as follows:

    (105 ILCS 20/1) (from Ch. 122, par. 771)
    Sec. 1. In each public school classroom the teacher in
    charge shall may observe a brief period of silence with the
    participation of all the pupils therein assembled at the
    opening of every school day. This period shall not be conducted
    as a religious exercise but shall be an opportunity for silent
    prayer or for silent reflection on the anticipated activities
    of the day.
    (Source: P.A. 76-21.)

    Section 99. Effective date. This Act takes effect upon
    becoming law.

    Also, I did not cite the verses for the proposition of public mandated prayer. Use the brain that God gave you and please re-read what I wrote.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100000586562927 muggle

    And I never said it did but it shouldn’t even mention prayer. The coercion is certainly there.

    I didn’t care enough about the actually verses to look them up. I was going by what you said. If you cited verses then misquoted them, it’s definitely not my fault.

  • http://pinkydead.blogspot.com David McNerney

    Just curious – but what are the consequences if you choose not to exercise your right to silence?

    I’d love to see this one in the courts, i.e. a student being suspended for persistently making noise during the moment of silence.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100000586562927 muggle

    So would I, David, so would I. I don’t know because I always make sure to at least hum or something if I’m at a public event that asks for one. So far, people have had the good sense to ignore me.

    It will be interesting once some kid stands up to it but I’m not optimistic since the bigotry will go against said kid.

  • Ally P

    Gandhi was right, it is utterly amazing… “to find an intelligent person who fights against something which he does not at all believe exists.” If the aim (as it is for most of my atheistic friends) is to entrust in the 1st article and it’s initial sentence, then what makes you forgo the one immediatley following: in regards to “prohibiting the free exercise thereof.” I believe that religion is not the problem, it is the intolerance of the people.

  • Leisa

    My son, a senior at a high school in Illinois, wants to protest being made to reflect or pray during his time at a PUBLIC school which should be focused on school events or teaching. Any ideas or suggestions? And what support can I find when I get the call from the school? Please advise! Thanks!
    A concerned mom who supports her child’s right to speak his beliefs.


CLOSE | X

HIDE | X