Statement of Adam Schwartz, Senior Staff Counsel American Civil Liberties Union of Illinois re: U. S. District Court Decision Striking Down Illinois' Moment of Silence Law January 21, 2009:
The American Civil Liberties Union of Illinois applauded the decision today of the federal district court to strike down a statewide law that coerced children to pray as part of an organized activity in our public schools. In the words of Judge Robert W. Gettleman's decision: "the teacher is compelled to instruct her pupils, especially in the lower grades about prayer and its meaning..."
The court also found that the legislative intent in passing the law was to encourage organized prayer in the schools. On the floor of the General Assembly, sponsors repeated equated the moment of silence in school with the prayers recited each day before the General Assembly convenes. Moreover, the court held that the statue improperly "demonstrates an official preference for those religions that practice silent prayer over those that do not."
As the courts long have recognized, it is not the role of government (including public schools) to tell children when and how to pray. Religious exercise is a matter for students and parents, not politicians and school officials.
Students remain free to pray on their own, in a non-disruptive manner, throughout the school day. 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.