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Judge bans moment of silence in all public schools
By Rob Olmstead | Daily Herald Staff
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Published: 5/30/2008 12:11 AM

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A federal judge expanded the ban of a "moment of silence" in schools from just one district in the Northwest suburbs to schools statewide Thursday.

Judge Robert W. Gettleman indicated at a court hearing that he will issue a written order directing schools to stop enforcing a state law requiring a moment of silence at public schools, said Ronak Patel, an attorney for Dawn and Rob Sherman, the plaintiffs.

Andrea Preston, a spokeswoman with the Illinois Board of Education, said the board sent an e-mail to schools Thursday, telling them "in essence, they should immediately cease enforcing the law."

Dawn Sherman is a student at Buffalo Grove High School who sued Northwest Suburban School District 214, alleging the law was unconstitutional. Rob Sherman is her father, an atheist activist.

"I'm so proud of my daughter Dawn," Sherman said Thursday. "She took on the entire Illinois General Assembly and won."

The two had contended that the language of the law made prayer more than just an option but an explicit suggestion from authorities that students pray, thus violating the freedom of religion.

The Alliance Defense Fund, a conservative group that had filed a friend-of-the-court brief arguing the measure was strictly voluntary and constitutional, could not be reached for comment Thursday.

Robyn Ziegler, a spokeswoman for the Illinois attorney general's office, which is defending the constitutionality of the law, said the office will review its options "on how to best proceed."

Adam Schwartz, a senior staff lawyer with the ACLU, said there are two main issues before the court, the substantive issue of whether the law is constitutional, and the procedural issue of whether the lawsuit, which was filed against just District 214, where Sherman attends school, would be restricted to just the district or expanded to schools statewide.

Weeks ago, Gettleman ruled the lawsuit would be applied to all schools, and debated whether to extend the preliminary injunction prohibiting enforcement to them as well. Before acting, he gave schools throughout the state several weeks to weigh in before he ruled Thursday.

"Not one school district" stepped forward to defend the law, noted Schwartz, whose group opposes the law.

The only district that weighed in was Northbrook Elementary District 27, whose superintendent, David Kroeze, wrote, "We oppose the Silent Reflection and Student Prayer Act because it imposes an unnecessary and unworkable state mandate which serves no educational purpose."