By George Whitten, BosNewsLife International Correspondent
WASHINGTON, USA (BosNewsLife)– Schools in the American state of Illinois were pressured Monday, January 26, to abandon a moment of silence for prayer or reflection, after a judge ruled the practice was “unconstitutional” and “forced religion” upon minors.
It came as a major setback for supporters of the law, known as the ‘Silent Reflection and Student Prayer Act’, who argued it allowed students to make a free choice to use that minute, either for prayer or reflection. They strongly denied that this was an attempt to “force religion” upon students.
However, outspoken atheist and radio talk show host Rob Sherman, and his daughter, Dawn, an Illinois high school student, successfully challenged the law with support from the American Civil Liberties Union.
U.S. Federal Judge Robert Gettleman said in his ruling Wednesday, January 21, he agreed that the legislation crossed the line of separating church and state and was therefore “unconstitutional.”
The judge described the law as a “subtle effort to force students at impressionable ages to contemplate religion.” He added that a “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 concluded that the,”plain language of the statute, therefore, suggests and intent to force the introduction of the concept of prayer into the schools.”
The Illinois legislation has faced legal challenges since it was adopted in 2007. In May 2008, Gettleman already issued an injunction against the enforcement of the law.
Many of the school districts dropped the moments of silence, however not all of them complied. This latest decision prompted the Illinois Principals Association to issue a notice on Thursday, January 22, telling schools they should immediately discontinue the practice on Monday, January 26.
It was unclear whether the State would appeal the decision or again rewrite the statute, and if all schools scrapped the moment of silence.
Similar laws, passed in other states, have also faced legal hurdles, but with different results.
Last year, U.S. District Judge Barbara Lynn upheld the constitutionality of a 2003 Texas law allowing children to “reflect, pray, meditate or engage in any other silent activities” for one minute at the beginning of each school day.
She concluded that “the primary effect of the statute is to institute a moment of silence, not to advance or inhibit religion.”