CHICAGO – Today, Judge Robert W. Gettleman of the federal U.S. District Court in Chicago ruled that a state law mandating a moment of silence in Illinois public schools is an unconstitutional endorsement of religion. He had previously put the Illinois Silent Reflection and Student Prayer Act on hold while he considered the case filed by an atheist parent on behalf of his daughter.
The Illinois General Assembly had passed the law to allow students the choice to simply reflect on the day’s activities or pray, and proponents argued that this did not compel religious practice. However, the court found that the intent of the law was to encourage organized prayer in schools, and pointed to arguments made on the Assembly floor equating the moment of silence with legislative prayers. The court also found that the law favored religions that practice silent prayer over those who do not.
“Students remain free to pray on their own, in a non-disruptive manner, throughout the school day,” ACLU lawyer Adam Schwartz said in a statement. “As Judge Gettleman recognized in his decision, public school students in Illinois do not require the permission of the General Assembly to engage in this constitutionally protected activity. ”
The court upheld the principle that students have a constitutional right to pray on their own at any time and that the government or the schools should not arbitrate when and how students pray.