SPRINGFIELD, Ill. — Gov. Rod Blagojevich rejected a proposal yesterday to force public school students to reflect quietly at the beginning of each day.
In a veto message to the General Assembly, the Democrat said current state law allows teachers to ask students to take a moment for silent reflection before class. Requiring it could violate the U.S. Constitution's ban on state-sponsored religion, he said.
"I believe in the power of prayer," Blagojevich wrote. "I also believe that our founding fathers wisely recognized the personal nature of faith and prayer, and that is why the separation of church and state is a centerpiece of our Constitution, our democracy and our freedoms."
The measure's House sponsor, state Rep. Will Davis, D-Homewood, had argued it was not a religious exercise, but a chance for pupils to settle down and reflect on the coming day.
He noted that both the Illinois House of Representatives and Senate begin each legislative day with prayers led by members of the clergy.
Originated by state Sen. Kimberly Lightford, D-Maywood, the bill, S.B. 1463, passed the Senate 58-1 and the House, 86-26 — both majorities large enough to override a gubernatorial veto.
But during debate on the House floor, the proposal came under sharp criticism. Opponents said it could, at best, take time away from learning and, at worst, coerce religious activity.
"I am working with my wife to raise our children to respect prayer and to pray because they want to pray — not because they are required to," Blagojevich said.
The American Civil Liberties Union took no position on the legislation. A spokesman pointed out that the Constitution does not bar voluntary prayer, and at least 10,000 student groups nationwide currently express their faith in public schools.