Area public schools are preparing to reinstate a moment of silence as a regular part of the school day. On Friday, U.S. District Judge Robert Gettleman lifted his own injunction that had prevented an Illinois law requiring a moment of silence in schools from being enforced.
In 2007, the Illinois state legislature passed the Silent Reflection and School Prayer Act, which required every public school classroom in Illinois observe “a brief period of silence with the participation of all the pupils therein assembled at the opening of every school day.”
The teenage daughter of atheist activist Rob Sherman filed a lawsuit claiming the law was unconstitutional. In 2009, Gettleman overturned the law, ruling that it was unconstitutional and violated the separation of church and state.
However on Oct. 15, 2010, a three-judge panel of the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals overturned Gettleman’s ruling and found, in a 2 to 1, decision that the law was constitutional.
In December the Seventh Circuit ordered Gettleman to lift his injunction, which he did last week.
Local public schools are now preparing to reinstate the moment of silence. It should not be too difficult for them, because local schools followed the law for much of the 2007-08 school year before a temporary injunction issued by Gettleman stopped it.
Local school superintendents said they would have brief moments of silence in conjunction with the Pledge of Allegiance at the start of the school day.
“When we had to do this before, we incorporated it as part of our daily announcements,” said Neil Pellicci the superintendent of Komarek School District 94. “We start the day with the Pledge of Allegiance every day and, after the pledge, we did our moment of silence, and then the principal went into his daily announcements. So we’ll probably, when we reinstate this, just follow that same routine.”
In Brookfield-LaGrange Park District 95 and at Riverside-Brookfield High School it is likely that the moment of silence will come immediately before the Pledge of Allegiance.
How long will the moment of silence be?
The law does not specify the length of moment of silence, and it will be up to each district or school to determine how long the moment of silence should be. A recent memo that State School Superintendent Chris Koch sent to school officials noted that the Seventh Circuit opinion noted approvingly of a district with a 15 second moment of silence, but also noted that the court decision does not specify how long the moment of silence must be.
In District 95 it will likely be brief.
“In my mind, a moment of silence is three to five seconds,” said Mark Kuzniewski, the superintendent of District 95.
Kuzniewski, like other area superintendents, was not enthusiastic about the law.
“It’s unfortunate, in my mind, that there has been so much effort at the state level to talk about things in schools like a moment of silence at a time when state funding for schools is in such a crisis,” Kuzniewski said.
Riverside-Brookfield High School Interim Superintendent David Bonnette was similarly unenthusiastic about the law.
“Given the array of things about which a public school should be concerned, this would probably not be in the top 10 of my priorities,” Bonnette said. “And aside from that we are certainly going to follow the provisions that we are legally required to follow.”
Lyons-Brookfield District 103, which includes Lincoln School in Brookfield, apparently jumped the gun and reinstated the moment of silence after the appellate court upheld the law, not waiting for the injunction to be officially lifted. .
“It was under my impression that the ban was repealed,” said District 103 Superintendent Michael Warner.
What if students are not silent during the moment of silence?
“There will be some type of discipline,” Pellicci said. “We’re pretty clear with the students as far as expectations, and if that’s one of the school-wide expectations then we will expect everyone to comply.”
On Monday, Sherman said that California lawyer Mike Newdow has agreed to represent his daughter in her appeal of the Seventh Circuit’s decision to the United States Supreme Court. Newdow has argued unsuccessfully before the Supreme Court that the words “under God” should be stricken from the Pledge of Allegiance and the phrase “In God We Trust” should be removed from United States currency.
“The nation’s two top atheists are teaming up to appeal this to the Supreme Court of the United States,” Sherman said.
It will not be known until October whether the Supreme Court will agree to hear the case.