The morning routine at Stevenson High School in Lincolnshire will be 10 seconds shorter Friday after a federal judge banned the moment of silence mandated in public schools in Illinois.
Like many of their counterparts, Stevenson students have been asked to reflect or pray at the same time each day since last October, when Illinois passed the law. On Thursday a judge halted that requirement while he figures out if the law passes constitutional muster.
Not all Illinois schools heeded the law. Administrators for districts that did comply said they didn't foresee much impact from dropping the moment in the school year's waning days.
Stevenson junior Aliya de Grazia welcomed the change, saying she looked forward to a moment-free start of the day.
"I didn't have a problem so much with the idea of us reflecting in school," said de Grazia, a junior who walked out of her first-period class when the moment of silence was first observed. "But I can't stand the idea of the government telling me what to think or what to say and when to do it."
The ruling is just the latest turn in a debate that's been anything but silent the last year.
When the law was proposed, most legislators supported allowing a brief period for students to use for "silent prayer or for silent reflection on the anticipated activities of the day." Lawmakers even banded together in the fall to override Democratic Gov. Rod Blagojevich's veto.
But the measure, titled the Silent Reflection and Student Prayer Act, has sparked backlash from the public and confusion in the classroom as some districts observed the law and others ignored it.
In Oswego, Community School District 308 officials implemented a moment of silence before the Pledge of Allegiance, while Oak Park and River Forest High School administrators decided against observing a moment once the law was challenged in court.
The two schools in Lake Villa-based Community High School District 117 split. Antioch High School phased out the moment after the suit, while Lakes Community High School continued the practice, adding 5 seconds after the Pledge of Allegiance each morning.
Chicago Public Schools left enforcement up to the principal of each school, but it's unclear if any of the schools put it in place because the district didn't track which schools participated.
"This is one of those vague rulings that schools just have to comply with," said Jennifer Bertino-Tarrant, regional superintendent at the Will County Regional Office of Education. "The intention was good. I'm just not sure it accomplished anything significant or that the kids really understood why it was in place."
Critics said the mandate amounted to a government endorsement of religion, while supporters said the pause was simply a respite for busy young minds.
U.S. District Judge Robert Gettleman previously stopped the law from being observed in northwest suburban Township High School District 214 after atheist activist Rob Sherman challenged the law on behalf of his daughter, Dawn, a student at Buffalo Grove High School.
In March, Gettleman expanded the case into a class-action suit, meaning students and school districts from Chicago to Cairo could participate. That opened the way for the temporary injunction to be expanded statewide Thursday.
Dawn Sherman, 14, said students at her school laughed at the silent moment when it was first implemented.
"I was pretty much thinking that it was wasting my time," said Sherman. "It's during my algebra class. A lot of things happen in algebra, and every second counts."
Legislators since have tried to reverse the mandate, but that effort recently fell short in the Senate after lawmakers argued the court challenge should be decided.
The bill's sponsor, Sen. Kimberly Lightford (D-Maywood), criticized the decision.
"That's a travesty, in my opinion, for a judge to make a statewide decision based on one student filing in his courtroom, when this would affect millions of students statewide," Lightford said.
While the matter is far from being settled, some educators said they're just glad they'll have the summer to assess the silence situation.
"School is out Tuesday, so whatever happens, it likely won't go into effect until next school year," said Sandy Zalewski, spokeswoman for Joliet School District 86, where all 20 schools observed the moment of silence.
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