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New Illinois Law Mandates Moment of Silence

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The State of Illinois just did something I thought was unlikely to happen in a northern, solidly blue state.  Almost (but not quite) under the radar, the Illinois state legislature overrode a gubernatorial veto to enact a mandatory “moment of silence for prayer or reflection.”  Illinois is not unique in having this sort of legislation.  In fact, it’s becoming more and more common.   

Until Thursday, October 11, an Illinois law permitted, but did not mandate, a moment of silence at the beginning of the school day.  All public schools, and the students and teachers therein, will so begin their day.  The law required immediate implementation by school districts across the state.   

I am a religious professional.  I work in a synagogue; I encourage people to pray, to find their spiritual selves and to participate in public worship services.  For that is where the public act of prayer (or reflection, if you’d like) belongs.   

A moment of reflection at the start of the day?  Great.  Wonderful.  Start the morning with a little bit of “OK, now, kids…Take a deep breath and now another…close your eyes and think about what today will bring during your school hours. (Pause).  Now…stretch.”  A great way to start the day.  No prayer; nobody’s prayer.  

In my opinion, the danger with the Illinois law and others like it is the slippery slope phenomenon.  A precocious first grader may ask of his or her teacher:  “What does it mean to ‘reflect?’”  That’s a hard concept to explain to a six year old.  Even a precocious six-year old.  The teacher may answer:  “Well, you can pray…”  “What does that mean?”  “Well, I pray to God.  To Jesus.”  Innocent question; probably innocent answer—and all of a sudden it’s not a simple moment of silence.  Six-year olds are impressionable.  If Teacher prays to Jesus (or to Buddha, or to Mohammed, or to Allah…or simply to God) then our precocious six-year old (or 10-year old, or high school athlete) might be inclined to pray as the teacher does.  Like I said:  slippery slope.  

What happens when (as it will) that little innocuous moment of silence becomes audible, especially as it might in communities where virtually everyone is of the same religious belief?  Say it becomes a prayer before the weekly football game, or at the start of the morning student council meeting, or faculty meeting.  Laws like this have a way of morphing into something entirely different when executed at the local level.  You may reason that it doesn’t make a difference, since everyone is of the same religious stripe.  Well, it does as soon as the first family (or teacher) moves into the school system.  I don’t think I need to explain why. 

Prayer belongs in church, in synagogue, in temple, in mosque; around the family dinner table; in the morning as you awaken, and at night before retiring.  Prayer does not belong in public school.  A compulsory moment of silence for prayer or reflection is a dangerous road to embark upon.  I am sorely disappointed with the Illinois State Legislature for passing the law in the first place and then overriding the governor’s veto.

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About Barbara Barnett

Barbara Barnett is Publisher/Executive Editor of Blogcritics, (blogcritics.org). Her debut novel, called "Anne Rice meets Michael Crichton," The Apothecary's Curse The Apothecary's Curse comes out October 11 from Pyr, an imprint of Prometheus Books. Her book on the TV series House, M.D., Chasing Zebras is a quintessential guide to the themes, characters and episodes of the hit show. Barnett is an accomplished speaker, an annual favorite at MENSA's HalloWEEM convention, where she has spoken to standing room crowds on subjects as diverse as "The Byronic Hero in Pop Culture," "The Many Faces of Sherlock Holmes," "The Hidden History of Science Fiction," and "Our Passion for Disaster (Movies)."
  • Zedd


    I don’t believe in prayer in school either, for the same reasons that you have stated and more.

    However, I think you are taking a leap.

    We don’t value silence, thought, reflection, pause or reverence for the moment. We need to. All of our moments are taken up with electronic gadgets, beeps, jingles, ring tones even bombastic base booming at every red light. We don’t think about things deeply. We simply react.

    I think a time of reflection is wonderful. I also think that children KNOW what they are taught. Any child who wants to know what reflection or contemplation is should be told. It’s a time to be quite and think about the moment and the important things to come. I don’t think that that is so abstract and out of the grasp of a normally functioning six year old mind.

    Also I think that “ceremonizing” adds importance to what takes place. We certainly need that.

  • I’m with you in finding this very troubling. Incrementalism is the method of choice among those who want to gradually introduce religion into the curriculum of the schools, and this looks like a very modest first step.

    It’s as dangerous to the religious independence of the family as it is to the religious neutrality of the schools to open the door to even the smallest taint of religion.


  • Thank you both for your comments. Zedd, my problem with the law is two-fold. The most important objection I have is that the law actually says “prayer.” If “prayer” had been omitted, I would have less of an issue. Like you, I think a moment or two of silence: setting the stage for the day ahead without the disruptions and interuptions of life is a good thing. As Dave Nalle said, it’s the potential for incrementalism that worries me.


  • Thank you both for your thoughtful comments. Zedd-My objections to the law are two-fold. The first and most important of those objections is the use of the word “prayer.” I would agree that a moment or two of quiet reflection is a wonderful way to start the day. To add prayer to the mix invites the sort of incrementalism to which I believe Dave Nalle is referring.

    My second objection is the mandatory nature of the law.


  • this is a tough one, imo…

    on the one hand, a Moment of Silence (and that’s ALL it should ever be referred to as in a public school) is about as secular and generic as you can get…a harmless time of Reflection that the Student can experience as he or she sees fit…

    on the other hand, there is indeed an inherent danger to the separation of Church and State as has been pointed out…a Teacher innocently saying the words “pray”, or “Jesus”, or “God”,or “Loki”, or “Satan”, et cetera, violates the secular boundary required in our schools

    better to err on the side of Caution, imo

    folks in Illinois should take this one to the Courts…


  • There is no reason to believe that the real motive of those members of the legislature who voted for this measure isn’t to re-introduce prayer in the schools. They can couch it in terms that belie that intention, but that’s all mis-direction.

    Prayer has no place in public school. As you suggest, this will have a creeping effect as it goes along. Within weeks or months, everyone will be holding hands and praying to Jesus before class and all school functions. Anyone who doesn’t want to participate may tacitly allowed to do so, but the effect that will have on a child in school can be devastating on so many levels. Younger children in particular will not understand.

    Don’t tell me that the religious right is dead in the water. They are still out there, and still hammering away, picking, biting and scratching to “take back” an America for Christ he never had.


  • The concept of getting around court rulings regarding school prayer by mandating moments of silence has been quite successful. It’s a foot in the door. Kids who do not participate can be made to feel like outcasts (or worse).

    The Illinois law will probably be challenged in court when the first kid who refuses to abide by the mandatory moment is disciplined.

    Our school district in Chicago’s northern/northwest suburbs is taking a wait-and-see approach. They have asked for clarification from the State Superintendent of Schools before doing anything at all. The kids (particularly high school students) are incensed–especially kids who are from minority religions.

  • My second objection is the mandatory nature of the law.

    As Roger Williams said, “forced religion stinks in goddes nostrils.” And I think the same can be said of a forced moment of silence.


  • It is certainly not “just” a Moment of Silence. It is stealth mandatory prayer. Terrible idea.

  • bliffle

    Handy is right: it’s stealth prayer, and the religionists who push it know that. That’s why they push it.

  • Ruvy in Jerusalem


    If you choose to live in exile, you have to realize that you will pay the price. America is primarily a Christian country, and if you don’t like that, you would be well advised to come home. But the price of living in a Christian country is living with the Christian religion. As a “professional” Jew, you of all people, should understand this.

    Of course, Barbara, you could always come home. Living would be harder here, and you would not make anywhere near as much money as you do now, but you would never have to worry about this bullshit.

    For all the whining of atheists on this site (there is a cabal here of inferior writers hustling their ideas as energetically as Christians hustle their own), America is till primarily a Christian country – even if that Christianity is nothing more than the sluttishness of Ann Coulter telling milquetoast Jews on MSNBC that they need to become perfected Jews, or Christians.

    And that, my dear, is the bottom line.

    If you don’t like it, check out the Aliya office in Chicago.

  • MAOZ

    Who was it who said, “As long as Final Exams exist, there will always be prayer in the schools!”?

  • Ruvy,

    Do you find all atheists who contribute here to be inferior writers because of our atheism, or is it simply your professional opinion regarding our lack of literary prowess? Shud I go to a ritin class so’s I dont messup my sin tax?

    Your every word drips with condescension. Your -o-would not take kindly to your arrogance. or shouldn’t, at any rate.


  • I find it hard to believe that in the course of a whole day at school a devout student can’t find a moment for silent prayer without having one set aside for him by the government.


  • Ruvy in Jerusalem

    “Your every word drips with condescension.”

    Baritone, it really isn’t your problem, or your business, but most Jews in America, especially the younger ones, have decided to erase Israel out of their picture. So if I choose to be condescending, there is a reason. I have made sacrifices for what I have believe in, and have reason to understand that further sacrifices may be necessary and will be required.

    I have no sympathy for a “professional Jew” who whines about the problems of being a minority in America when she and her family have a choice not to be a minority at all, but the opportunity – the G-d given opportunity, if you will – to build their own country without having to worry about the minority status she whines about.

    Barbara Barnett has made her bed – let her sleep in it and not complain.

    If you want to complain about the Illinois legislature, that is a different kettle of fish.

  • One needn’t be an atheist to object to this law, Ruvy. It is quite objectionable on constitutional grounds, and one hopes it will be successfully challenged.

  • I agree, that one needn’t be an atheist to know and understand the problems this law (and others like it) creates.

    Ruvy, I wasn’t going to address your comments, and now I will, since they are directed personally to me. The bed I choose to lie in is within the pluarlistic Jewish society that exists in the US. This (the US) is my home. And it is my home becuase my grandparents sought to live in a land where they could practice their religion without fear or intimidation. My grandmothers siblings helped to build what is now the State of Israel. My great grandmother, a founder of Kibbutz Afakim is buried on the grounds of the kibbutz.

    The creeping theocracy, so scarily signified by life at the Air Force Acadamy as described in Weinstein’s book, is extremely troubling. Book banning (or attempted book banning), the imposition of mandated prayer or “reflection,” teaching “intelligent design” as valid “science” have flourished in the past six years.

    The blurring of lines between enabling religious practice and mandating it within public venues continues to inccrease. The founding fathers of the nation would not only be disheartened by this revisionism, but would have risen up and done something about it.

  • Ruvy in Jerusalem


    That is your Air Force Academy where you worry about Christianity being hustled, it is your military, and your sports where you must worry about Christianity being hustled, and it is a Christian country that you choose to call home where you must worry about finding the religious freedoms your grandparents found eroded.

    Your grandparents, like mine, chose the best available opportunity at the time. And at the time, it was a wise decision.

    That you are unable to see that times have changed, and that wisdom may no longer apply is the reason you face the problems you do.

    You have chosen to cut yourself off from your country, and you people for a “pluralistic” Jewish society where your faith and your culture will inevitably be watered down in a flood of “avodá zará” until only the most observant Jews will be left – and they will be packing to leave for home. Great grandaunts don’t count, Barbara. It is your sons and daughters who count.

    This is why I do not appeal to you to consider aliya. I know better. You have cut yourself off by your own choice, and are beginning to perceive the consequences. You have nothing to complain about – you know the solution.

    I’m sorry if that sounds cold and unfeeling, but what I say to you applies to my sister, my nephews, my cousins and all the rest of my family who have your wisdom, rather than mine. So there is pain in what I say, not anger or contempt, or condescension. What you see is not Ockham’s Razor, but the Knife of History cutting the Jewish people into that part which will survive – here, and that part which will not survive – there, where you are.

    This law you complain about is only the tiny tip of the Blade I refer to.

  • Thanks, Barbara. Timely article.

    My Jewish friends think of themselves as being Americans like everybody else, and have no desire to be anything else. It just might be that they are thinking for themselves!

    I’m tired of Christians, Jews, liberals and conservatives insisting that THEY alone know the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth for everybody, and are always right, because of their special revelation. (The one the rest of us didn’t get.) The louder and more insistent they are, the more I doubt their reasoning and common sense.

    Whatever happened to minding your own business–especially in religion–and staying out of other people’s?

    Virginia’s public schools have had a moment of silence for years and yes, it was a product of the influence of the religious right on state legislators. No lawsuits I’m aware of; my impression is that to the kids and teachers it’s a habit with little significance. Even teachers who would dearly love to evangelize seem to understand that’s not going to be allowed.

    But it is definitely an attempt to use kids and schools to further a religious (and political) agenda.

  • Les Slater

    #6 Baritone,

    “Don’t tell me that the religious right is dead in the water. They are still out there, and still hammering away, picking, biting and scratching to ‘take back’ an America for Christ he never had.”

    The ‘religious right’ is more of a fiction than a reality. Most of the creeps run for office with that tag are much more right than Christian. The ‘Christian’ is only there for cover for their rightist agenda.

    The majority, the super majority, of the Illinois state legislature, is not the ‘religious right’.

    The two parties are moving to the right. It’s not some nut fringe minority that is doing this to us.

    It’s an indication that things are not going well and these self-proclaimed rulers of ours are trying to drive us in a reactionary direction.

    We should all pray to whomever we believe in up there and not pay any attention to the guy behind the curtain.


  • Baronius

    I can see where this law might look scary to people who fear religious encroachment. This could look like the first step, from where we are now, to mandatory prayer.

    It looks like a good compromise to me. It doesn’t violate the First Amendment, and it’s not going to inspire anyone to violate it. I mean, have you ever met high school kids? They don’t spontaneously break out into group prayer. Even among religious kids, religion isn’t cool. The whole point of school is to get through it without showing the least enthusiasm for anything.

    The Founders knew exactly what they were doing on this issue. They made it illegal to establish religion or prevent religion. School prayer is a terrible political issue, because it’s no-win. It’s illegal. The religious right should walk away from it, because it makes them look like fanatics. But there’s no real argument against a moment of silence, and the people who do oppose it look just as fanatical.

  • Baronius–

    It’s actually not true that all high schoolers look upon prayer as uncool. Nor do all teachers, nor do all football coaches. All it takes is one group; a little bit of peer or teacher or coach pressure in an environment where a MANDATED moment for “silence or PRAYER” to set the first step on that slide. It is very hard to retreat from it. It should not be in the government’s business to mandate anything with the word “prayer” in it. Period.

    It is the only way to protect the rights of religious minorities in the public sphere (particularly in school where the dynamics between teacher and student are so one sided–by necessity).


  • Les Slater


    “particularly in school where the dynamics between teacher and student are so one sided–by necessity”

    By necessity? Maybe one sided is necessary, but are they as necessary as they often are? I am sure they are more one sided the poorer the school district is.


  • #23: “This could look like the first step…”

    Let’s think about it. We went from sanctioned Christian prayers in public schools in the ’60s and before to no sanctioned prayers in the ’70s (roughly) and since. So, this certainly could look like a 180 degree turn back to where we were, especially with a more sympathetic Supreme Court, now or in the future, and continued political pressure from the religious right (which has been a demonstrably potent local, state, and national force for 20 years.)

    “It looks like a good compromise to me.”

    Why do we need a compromise? If santioned school prayer is illegal, then why does a government entity need to encourage, promote, or even suggest it through a state-sanctioned moment of silence?

    “The religious right should walk away from it, because it makes them look like fanatics”.
    Some of them ARE fanatics. They are true believers in establishing a Christian kingdom on earth, who would re-write The Founders in a second if they could. They dream about an American theocracy.

  • Correction to #26:

    “So this certainly could look like a STEP TOWARD a 180 degree turn back to where we were…”

  • Baronius

    Lee, as to my comment about a “first step”, I was addressing the fear of a rightward shift. I know that Christian school prayer was wrongly considered constitutional for generations. It isn’t any more, and shouldn’t be. The original article and a few comments have already talked about incrementalism; it doesn’t matter to this argument whether it’s incrementally backward to religion or forward to religion.

    Why a compromise? Because that’s what government is supposed to do. This will satisfy nearly everyone in a manner that is consistent with the Constitution.

    I’m a hardcore Christian Republican. Some people on my side make a stink about every single thing you’d proprose. That’s stupid and ineffective. Not every emissions regulation is the “first step” toward the destruction of American industry. Some whackos on your side may wish it were. But their existence doesn’t make pollution good. All I’m saying is, don’t fight a moment of silence just because you don’t trust its supporters.

    Incidentally, do you really see the Supreme Court drifting toward theocracy? Aside from the fact that Republicans nominated some of them, why would you see that? What decisions reflect that?

  • Baronius,

    You’ve mixed parts of my comments together and come up with something I didn’t say.

    I didn’t and don’t claim the Court is drifting toward theocracy. I did say some fanatics on the religous right dream about it.

    I said the Court could be more sympathetic–now or in the future. Doesn’t the possibility exist that the Court could reverse itself on abortion, affirmative action, school prayer and any number of other social issues at some time and under some circumstances? They do, after all, interpret.

    I don’t think compromise on the Bill of Rights is what government is supposed to do, and this is coming awfully close. And I don’t see why the Christian right would be satisfied with a moment of silence. Do they have no problem with atheists, pagans, Druids–not to mention all other organized religions–having school time sanctioned by the government to encourage them to practice their beliefs or disbelief openly?

    In their shoes, I’d feel like my faith had lost ground.

    Thanks for sharing your thoughts and for the civil tone of your rebutal. I hope I’ve responded in kind.

  • Cindy D

    I agree with Dave. It’s an incremental step to getting prayer into public schools.

    We have enough laws. If people want to observe a moment of silence let them do it without a law. We don’t need laws mandating moments of silence.

  • Zedd


    If the word “prayer” was used, the ritual should be abolished. However, if it is a simple time of silence, I’m all for it.

    I should tell you that I am a Christian but I think the entire prayer in school, “In God We Trust”, ten commandments in court rooms, is silly. Belief is in the heart. Prayer is in the heart. No one can affect your praying unless they affect your mind. As for putting religious slogans on public things like currency, its as if we believe in some sort of voodoo or if we say we trust God, good things will happen. Either you trust in God or you don’t. You don’t have to go writing it everywhere, let alone on money…. other people’s money at that. What’s that all about. On the ten commandments… who doesn’t know not to do those things. It’s just all silly. Just a way for people to try and control others. It has nothing to do with faith or spirituality.

  • Zedd said: If the word “prayer” was used, the ritual should be abolished. However, if it is a simple time of silence, I’m all for it.

    The word “prayer” is in the law. the law is called the “Silent Reflection and Student Prayer Act,” the text of the law reads:

    In each public school classroom the teacher in charge shall observe a brief period of silence with the participation of all the pupils therein assembled at the opening of every school day. This period 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.

    This is what has me most concerned, although the mandated nature of it and the familiar codewords “moment of silence” are only slightly less disquieting.

  • Zedd


    I agree that a law is not needed. What’s that all about you ask? it’s not really about wanting religion in schools. Its about politicians wanting to appear to be for something religious. They don’t care a bit about incrementally doing anything religious. The only steps they care about are steps closer to whatever career aspirations they have. Appearing religious is money in the bank for politicians.

    I think that as a procedure each district should vote a moment of silence in like gym or mandatory music class. A time of quiet should be a good thing for the video game, overstimulated minds of today’s kiddos.

  • Zedd


    I would vehemently appose that law if I lived in that state.

    What angers me more is just how manipulative the elite are. How dare they dangle that rotten fruit in front of the hungry masses. There are a lot of uncertainties in our society and people are feeling ill at ease. The healthcare issues, war, economic uncertainty, over working, issues with aging parents have people wanting answers. Instead of politicians focusing on resolving the issues that matter, they offer meaningless pick me ups to buy themselves time until the next election season.

  • FU** the law!!!

    they can’t control our mouth why won’t they figure out what’s 1+1!!!!!!!!