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CHICAGO – An Illinois law requiring a daily moment of silence in public schools is back in effect after a two-year hiatus.
U.S. District Judge Robert Gettleman has lifted a federal injunction on the law's enforcement, and the Illinois State Board of Education notified districts Friday.
Gettleman's action Thursday came after the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 7th Circuit ruled in October that the law is constitutional because it doesn't specify prayer. The court ruled legislators who supported the bill said the moment of reflection had a secular and practical purpose in settling down students at the start of the school day.
Illinois legislators approved the Silent Reflection and Student Prayer Act in October 2007. The law reads, in part, that the brief period of silence at the opening of every school day "shall not be conducted as a religious exercise but shall be an opportunity for silent prayer or for silent reflection on the anticipated activities of the day."
But Rob Sherman, an outspoken atheist, filed a legal challenge to the law on behalf of his daughter, Dawn, a student at Buffalo Grove High School in suburban Chicago. Sherman claimed the law was unconstitutional, and while Gettleman agreed at trial, the appeals court reversed his ruling.
Sherman said Friday he intends to fight the law all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court.
"Don't allow this unconstitutional law to sabotage public education," he said.
Sherman said his daughter was a freshman when the law was passed, and "through this litigation process we have successfully stalled the moment of silence from taking place until now, just a few months before Dawn graduates" from high school.
Mary Fergus, spokeswoman for the state board of education, said notices were sent to the state's 868 districts on Friday explaining that the law is now in effect and what it states.
"We point out that (the law) does not define the length of the period of silence," Fergus said. "We are telling districts that we have no intention to limit their flexibility to implement in a manner that works best for the district and its students."
The law takes effect immediately.