Court Allows Moment of Silence Amid Lawsuit Challenge

A federal judge has allowed Illinois public schools to continue observing a moment of silence at the beginning of the day pending further review of a suit challenging the state law permitting the practice.

U.S. District Judge Robert W. Gettleman on Monday refused to issue a temporary restraining order barring school District 214 and Buffalo Grove High School from implementing a 15-second moment of silence.

Earlier this month, state lawmakers approved a mandate granting students "an opportunity for silent prayer or for silent reflection on the anticipated activities of the day." The law states that "this period shall not be conducted as a religious exercise."

But talk-radio host and self-described atheist Rob Sherman, who filed a suit on behalf of his 14-year-old daughter, Dawn, argues the law is a constitutional violation of the separation between church and state.

"The whole purpose of this law is to get religion into the public schools," Sherman told reporters after the hearing.

Sherman said he believes the law deprives his daughter, a student in the district at Buffalo Grove High School, of instruction time paid by taxpayers. He also contends the moment of silence mandate is an attempt to re-introduce prayers into schools.

School district representatives, in response, told the judge that they would ask students to observe the moment of silence without any mention of religion.

Legislators backing the bill have also maintained that the law does not push an agenda on schools.

"This was never about trying to require prayer in the schools," said Rep. Will Davis (D-Homewood), the bill's chief sponsor. "This is a way for teachers and students to [start] their day off in the right way."

While another law already gives Illinois teachers and schools the option of holding a moment of silence for students, supporters argue the mandate is necessary since not all schools and teachers choose not grant them to students.

Gettleman expressed reservations about the law and told Sherman and the state to come back to court on Nov. 14 to explore the issue further.

Although he has described himself as "the best known atheist-activist in the Midwest," Sherman has presented himself as more than a concerned parent challenging the law.

In 1989, the talk-radio host went to court to challenge a law requiring public school students to recite the Pledge of Allegiance.