Illinois and the Mandatory Moment of Silence: Playing Games with Legislation

You may have noticed the red “A” on the sidebar of my blog. I am, of course an atheist. I tend to lean towards the militant side of the atheist family, although I am a lot less feisty about it than some, but more than others. At any rate, it is a subject I have written very little about and now I am being scooped on stories in my own backyard. What makes this particularly painful is that Chris is, far, far, away in California.


At any rate, here is the story to date. Illinois had a law on the books allowing a moment of silence – all voluntary I might add. This, however, was not good enough for some of the religious folk in Illinois, so a law was passed – a very muddled law that few understood – that made the moment of silence and/or prayer mandatory. The law was vetoed by the governor and the veto was overridden. An outspoken atheist, Rob Sherman, who had a high school aged daughter sued. The judge on the case (who seems destined to be accused of “legislating from the bench” and of being a “judicial activist”) has ruled that the case should be a class action lawsuit. The St. Louis Post-Dispatch has some additional interesting information on the case. Apparently, as the lawsuit has progressed legislation is in the works, which would in effect change it back to the voluntary participation version previously in force. This is where the fundamental dishonesty of conservative religionists comes in. From the St. Louis Post-Dispatch:
Meanwhile, legislation has been introduced in Springfield to remove the words “student prayer” from the law and make it optional.

“I was hoping frankly this was further along in the legislative process,” the judge said at Wednesday’s hearing. “I was hoping we’d avoid spending resources on all sides.”
State Sen. Kimberly Lightford, D-Maywood, sponsored the original legislation to make the “moment of silence” mandatory. She has filed for Senate sponsorship of the latest measure — in an attempt to block a vote on the bill. [emphasis mine - afarensis]

Of course once the lawsuit popped up the backpedaling become staggering for example:

“Most good teachers have at least a couple of minutes of silence already just to establish order,” Mitchell said. “And you and I both know that as long as we have tests in school, we’ll have school prayer. I know I prayed a lot for that reason.”
“I was never passionate about it,” said Rep. Dan Burke (D-Chicago), who also changed his stance. “If you could enforce it, that would be one thing… But what’s the point of it? How in the world would you ever get compliance?”

With most using “local control” as an excuse to back away (school boards and teachers are complaining about the law). Except for Lightford:

Sen. Kim Lightford (D-Maywood), who championed the required moment, said she would vigorously oppose Fritchey’s proposal, saying school officials in her district have praised the law because children have a chance to gather their thoughts or pray.
‘No one’s giving them a Bible, no one’s asking them to quote Scripture,” Lightford said. “No one’s coming over the loud system saying, “Bow your heads in prayer,” ” as lawmakers do at the beginning of each legislative day.

That even though most teachers consider it a waste of classroom time. All things considered the issue is eating up a bunch of resources that could have been put to better use, if the religionists had left well enough alone. The story reminds me of some events that happened here in Missouri and I wouldn’t be surprised if the reasoning was the same…

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4 Responses

  1. A tenured science teacher could work the mandatory “moment of silence” to his/her advantage.
    Student: When are you going to present the scientific evidence against evolution?
    Tenured teacher: You heard all the scientific evidence against evolution during this morning’s “moment of silence”. Next question?

  2. A tenured science teacher could work the mandatory “moment of silence” to his/her advantage.
    Student: When are you going to present the scientific evidence against evolution?
    Tenured teacher: You heard all the scientific evidence against evolution during this morning’s “moment of silence”. Next question?

  3. My wife is an assistant teacher substitute here in Illinois so she gets to visit a LOT of classrooms. Being of a data-collecting mindset, she quietly timed the “moment of silence” and got figures like 15 seconds, 22 seconds, 8 seconds, while kids fidget and the teacher is looking at papers.

  4. When I was in school, we had “nondemoninational, student-led prayer” as the local solution. It was not the least bit nondenominational in practice, tho’, as all the prayers (delivered over the school’s loud-speakers) ended, “We pray these things in Jesus’ name. Amen.” I always wondered how the majority Christians would feel if, say, a Muslim student had gotten up and prayed, “There is no God but Allah and Muhammad is His prophet.” Puts the shoe on the other foot, eh?
    My father, an avowed atheist, often used to read a little poem about Abou Ben Adhem, by James Henry Leigh Hunt. He awoke one night to see an angel writing in a book of gold, the names of those who love the Lord. Abou asks, “And is mine one?” But the angel tells him, “Nay, not so.”
    So, Abou responds: “I pray thee, then,
    Write me as one that loves his fellow men.”
    The Angel wrote, and vanished. The next night
    It came again with a great wakening light,
    And showed the names whom love of God had blessed,
    And lo! Ben Adhem’s name led all the rest!

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