CHICAGO — A federal judge has refused to stop a suburban school district from observing a moment of silence required by a new state law, but allowed a lawsuit aimed at ending the practice to move forward.
U.S. District Judge Robert W. Gettleman on Oct. 29 declined to issue a temporary restraining order barring school District 214 and Buffalo Grove High School from holding the moment of silence. But he said he had questions about the law.
Gettleman told talk-radio host Rob Sherman, who filed the suit, and attorneys for the school district and the state to come back to court on Nov. 14 to explore the issue further, possibly after the suit is modified.
Sherman, whose 14-year-old daughter Dawn is a freshman at the school, maintains that the new law is just another round in the long-running battle over prayer in school and as such violates the U.S. Constitution.
"The whole purpose of this law is to get religion into the public schools," Sherman told reporters as he left the courthouse.
The Silent Reflection and Student Prayer Act already allowed Illinois schools to have a moment of silence if they wished to do so. The newly minted law, which went into effect this month, changed the word "may" to "shall," thus requiring schools across the state to have such a moment.
The House passed the measure and sent it to Gov. Rod Blagojevich in May. He vetoed it in August, saying that "the separation of church and state is a centerpiece of our constitution." The Legislature overrode his veto this month.
School district representatives told the judge that they would enforce the law in neutral fashion with a 15-second moment of silence, keeping references to religion out of it, pending resolution of the suit.
Sherman attorney Gregory E. Kulis said he wanted the announcement over the school public address system taped to make certain it was neutral.
Gettleman suggested that Sherman might want to modify his suit, possibly by dropping the governor as a defendant and replacing him with the state Board of Education.
Sherman is an outspoken atheist who has gone to court before in an effort to get religious symbols out of the public sphere.
In 1989, he filed a lawsuit challenging a state law requiring public school students to recite the Pledge of Allegiance. He said that the words "under God" contained in the pledge were unconstitutional.
He has described himself as "the best known atheist-activist in the Midwest."