Court Upholds Moment of Silence
Special Report - October 27, 2011
The United States Supreme Court has denied review of the case Sherman v. Koch, thus upholding a decision by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit, which ruled that an Illinois State statute mandating public schools to hold a moment of silence at the beginning of each school day was constitutional.
The case arose after the Illinois State Legislature passed the SB 1463Silent Reflection and Student Prayer Act in 2007. The law states: “In each public school classroom the teacher in charge shall 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.” Although then-Governor of Illinois, Rod Blagojevich, vetoed the measure, the legislature overrode the veto.
The lawsuit, brought by a self-professed atheist and his 15-year-old daughter, was filed shortly after the bill’s passage, claiming the law was unconstitutional. A federal district court judge agreed, holding that the statute “lacked a secular purpose and that it had the primary effect of advancing or inhibiting religion by favoring religions which engage in silent prayer.” An injunction was issued, forcing schools to stop observing a moment of silence.
In October of 2010 however, that ruling was overturned in a 2-1 decision by the U.S. Court of Appeals, which held that the law was constitutional. The court stated that the statute “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.” Additionally, the court said “Nothing in the text limits students’ thoughts during the period of silence; the text mandates only one thing silence.” Now that the Supreme Court has denied review of the case, the Court of Appeals ruling will stand, upholding the law and allowing the moment of silence to be observed.
Mathew Staver of Liberty Counsel commented on the ruling: “Upholding the ‘moment of silence’ law is both constitutional and common sense. A moment of silence respects the best traditions of America, by accommodating those who wish to pray but not forcing those who do not.”
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