Fanning the Flames: The Freedom Project Blog


An Answer to Our Prayers

By Shawn Healy
The latest chapter in the saga involving the efforts of Illinois state legislators to insert prayer into public school classrooms took a turn back in time as the House voted to return to the former status quo, allowing school districts to adopt moments of silent reflection that may include prayer, but doing away with the state mandate requiring such practices at the start of the school day. The legislation passed by an overwhelming margin of 72-31, with 33 legislators changing their vote since last fall when both the House and the Senate voted to override Gov. Blagojevich's veto. This group was bi-partisan in nature, 18 Democrats and 15 Republicans, including the House Minority Leader Tom Cross.

The mandate invited criticism across the spectrum, from school boards, to administrators, to teachers, even the students themselves. One lawsuit threatened to topple the law on constitutional grounds, though this effort apparently failed as of Monday. The bill moves now to the Senate, but prospects of success are dimmer here as Sen. Kimberly Lightford, an original sponsor of the law, has assumed a similar position on the reversal bill, a sign she may use parliamentary tactics to ensure its death upon arrival. Her recent defense of the Silent Prayer and Student Reflection Act underlines this Machiavellian tendency: "No one's giving them a Bible, no one's asking them to quote Scripture. No one's coming over the loud system saying, 'Bow your heads in prayer,' as lawmakers do at the beginning of each legislative day."

As Charles Haynes wrote last October, the legislation is probably not in violation of the religious liberties guaranteed by the First Amendment, but this does not make it a sound policy. Blagojevich thought it violated the First Amendment and used it as the rationale for his initial veto, but policymakers are arguably coming to the latter conclusion. Rep. Dan Burke captured these sentiments best in explaining away his flip-flop: "I was never passionate about it. 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?"

So this circular contest continues, and those impacted by the law must be wondering, "Don't these folks in Springfield have something better to do than hold a debate over what to do at the start of the school day?"

For a complete narrative, from beginning to end, on the evolution of this legal battle, please visit the following former posts:

Is Silence a Lemon?

Silence in the Courtroom.

Courting Our Annual Culture War.

Strike One...

Loose Ends.

Finally, moving to an entirely different topic, click here to listen to our latest podcast on the 2008 presidential election as we weigh in on the results of the March 4 "Critical Tuesday" contests.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thanks for the update. I was unaware of the move to reconsider.

12:39 PM  

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Managing Director

McCormick Freedom Project

Shawn is responsible for overseeing and managing the operations associated with the McCormick Freedom Project. Additionally, he serves as the in house content expert and voice of museum through public speaking and original scholarship. Before joining the Freedom Project, he taught American Government, Economics, American History, and Chicago History at Community High School in West Chicago, IL and Sheboygan North High School in Wisconsin.

Shawn is a doctoral candidate within the Political Science Department at the University of Illinois at Chicago where he received his MA in Political Science. He is a 2001 James Madison Fellow from the State of Wisconsin and holds a bachelor's degree in Political Science, History, and Secondary Education from the University of Wisconsin at Madison.

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About Fanning the Flames and the McCormick Freedom Project

Fanning the Flames is a blog of the McCormick Freedom Project, which was started in 2006 by museum managing director Shawn Healy. The blog highlights the news of the day, in hopes of engaging readers in dialogue about freedom issues. Any views or opinions expressed on this blog represent those of the writers alone and do not represent an official opinion of the McCormick Freedom Project.

Founded in 2005, the McCormick Freedom Project is part of the McCormick Foundation. The Freedom Project’s mission is to enable informed and engaged participation in our democracy by demonstrating the relevance of the First Amendment and the role it plays in the ongoing struggle to define and defend freedom. The museum offers programs and resources for teachers, students, and the general public.

First Amendment journalism initiative

The Freedom Project recently launched a new reporting initiative with professional journalists Tim McNulty and Jamie Loo. The goal is to expand and promote the benefits of lifelong civic engagement among citizens of all ages, through original reporting, commentary and news aggregation on First Amendment and freedom issues. Please visit the McCormick Freedom Project's news Web site, The Post-Exchange at

Dave Anderson
Vice President of Civic Programs
McCormick Foundation

Tim McNulty
Senior Journalist
McCormick Freedom Project

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