RFFM.org Commentary by Daniel T. Zanoza, Executive Director
How The Few Can Put Their Values Ahead Of The Many And Hurt Our Nation In the Process: Religious Liberty Again Under Attack
It was a wonderful moment for the state of Illinois and, hopefully, a precursor to a wave that might sweep the nation. Late last year, the Illinois General Assembly passed a bill titled the Silent Reflection and Student Prayer Act. Then, state legislators overrode a veto by a Democratic Governor with an overwhelming bipartisan margin. It was something special. Elected officials overcame politics, and then the influence of special interest groups, to make life better for Illinois students and our society on the whole.
The Silent Reflection and Student Prayer Act would have called for a mandatory moment of silence before the start of every public school day. Not a very radical idea, I know, but the legislation was widely praised by parents and teachers. After all, having students take 30 or 60 seconds to reflect on the day ahead, silently say a prayer or think about what car they would like to drive when they finally get their first license wouldn't be harmful to anyone. Indeed, it would have been a benefit, something that would have brought a moment of tranquility to what is sometimes a hectic, stress-filled day. Yes, even young people have stress.
But leave it to the intolerant among us to bring an end to good things in our society and display intolerance while, at the same time, hiding under the umbrella of that same term. Enter Eric Zorn of the Chicago Tribune. Zorn is a liberal "columnist" who works for a very liberal newspaper and he decided to make the moment of silence a thing of the past. In fact, it became an obsession to Zorn. The Tribune writer continually poked his finger into the eyes of special interest groups, including organizations like the NEA (National Education Association), AFT (American Federation of Teachers) and the ACLU (American Civil Liberties Union). Where is the outcry, Zorn shouted from his lofty perch in the Chicago Tribune building. How can we let this violation of everything America stands for become corrupted by some state legislators who have no understanding of the Constitution, Zorn intimated. Now remember, Zorn is talking about public school children silently standing, or sitting still, for probably 30 seconds before every school day.
Well, Zorn's strategy worked. A Buffalo Grove atheist took up Zorn's battle cry. He came up with $20,000, according to his own words, hired a lawyer and filed a lawsuit on behalf of his daughter who attends Buffalo Grove High School.
If you noticed, I didn't mention the atheist's name because I won't give this individual the satisfaction or the notoriety which he craves so badly. Indeed, it's a sad story about a sad life, but I digress.
By the luck of the draw, or with the help of the Devil's hand, the atheist's case fell in to the grasp of U.S. District Judge Robert Gettleman. Yes, amazing as it sounds, the atheist found a judge who agreed with his and Zorn's position and Gettleman issued an injunction, prohibiting the Buffalo Grove High School from observing the moment of silence. But that wasn't enough for these men of comity--or at least they claim to be men of comity, unless things do not go their way. Then, they are men of intolerance with hateful, cruel spirits.
Thankfully, there were people and institutions who came to the defense of Illinois parents and their children. The Illinois Family Institute (IFI) [http://www.illinoisfamily.org/] led the battle against what truly was an intrusion on the Constitutional rights of public school students. The Alliance Defense Fund (ADF) [http://www.alliancedefensefund.org/] took up the battle against the dark side which, of course, was represented by the ACLU. Most legal experts believe if the case would eventually go to the United States Supreme Court, Judge Gettleman, the Buffalo Grove atheist and Eric Zorn would have a bad day. A similar law was ruled Constitutional in Texas, though there might have been some slight differences in the way the Texas law was written.
Lawyers from the Chicago firm of Mauck & Baker [http://www.mauckbaker.com/] who are representing the Alliance Defense Fund (ADF) as a friend of the court came up against the Buffalo Grove atheist and Judge Gettleman in February and again on March 5th, 2008 which was expected to be a crucial day and it was. You see, on March 5th, 2008 lawyers for the ADF had asked Gettleman to dismiss the lawsuit and many believed the judicial activist judge was in a bind. Judges don't like to have their cases overturned by higher courts and Gettleman was out on a shaky, legal limb.
However, instead of dismissing the case on March 5th, Gettleman ruled the atheist's daughter had the right to represent every public school student in Illinois and that Buffalo Grove School District 241 can represent all school districts in the state.
Sounds crazy, doesn't it? But listen to some of the arguments behind Gettleman's ruling. By observing a moment of silence at the beginning of each school day, the Buffalo Grove atheist's daughter would be deprived of education time. That's right, 30 seconds of silence would have ruined her life, according to the judge. And Gettleman also suggested the Silent Reflection and Student Prayer Act was unconstitutional because children had to make a choice to privately pray or think about something else during that moment of silence. It's madness.
Now remember, in a few short days, students in Illinois public schools will be allowed to observe an entire day of silence in support of homosexuality. And to my knowledge there hasn't been much, if any, outrage demonstrated by the tribune columnist regarding this bit of absurdity. No lawsuit from the Buffalo Grove atheist either.
How many judges are there like U.S. District Judge Robert Gettleman? I don't know. But no wonder our world seems like it's tipping of its axis. What gave Gettleman the courage to make his ruling? After the encouragement of people like Zorn, special interest groups went to work in the state capitol. Suddenly, a new bill was introduced--just months after the Illinois General Assembly passed the Silent Reflection and Student Prayer Act. The Illinois House passed HB4180 to amend the Silent Reflection and Student Prayer Act, making the current law not mandatory. This legislation is still pending action by the Illinois Senate. However, if passed, the moment of silence would become non-mandatory and it would eventually fall by the wayside.
Why did the Illinois House act? Because Gettleman was in a spot. The members of the Illinois House wanted to take the pressure off of Gettleman by fighting against a law they passed just months before. More madness.
Where does the case stand now? Thankfully, the Illinois Senate hasn't acted on the new bill. At the latest hearing, Gettleman merely had to figure out how the ban on the moment of silence should be implemented statewide.
There is hope, however. But it will take some action by the citizens of Illinois themselves. If parents, students and other school districts would come forward and file a legal challenge to Gettleman's ruling, saying the atheist's daughter does not have the right to represent all Illinois public school students and that Buffalo Grove School District 241 does not have the right to represent all school districts in the state, then there is still hope for the moment of silence.
I don't have any children attending a public school in Illinois. Therefore, I can't do anything more than write about this sad state of affairs. However, if you have children attending Illinois public schools and you think the moment of silence is a good thing, here's what you can do about it. Call the Alliance Defense Fund at (480) 388-8051 or contact the Illinois Family Institute at (630) 790-8370.
It's time the people of America stood up against the fascism exhibited by some on the Left. This isn't a matter of Republican or Democrat. It's an issue that will have an impact on the future of our country and the rights we all hold so dear. If individuals like Eric Zorn, the Buffalo Grove atheist and Judge Gettleman are given the opportunity to take away our Constitutional rights, they will. This case proves it. Truly, this is a time for good people to stand up and be counted.
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