Moment Of Silence Unfair To Atheist Student

December 1, 2007
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Dawn Sherman takes center stage on Channel One News to explain to other students why she is disgusted with her school’s moment of silence. Ms. Sherman’s father filed a suit saying his daughter’s school district should not have a moment of silence because it violates the separation of church and state.

The 15-year-old Ms. Sherman giggles, "I’m an atheist." This story is part of the Knight Foundation’s campaign to turn schoolchildren into First Amendment activists. Channel One News makes this young lady seem like a hero. This is sloppy journalism. Channel One is to receive $2.3 million from the Knight Foundation IF it runs stories like these that fit into Knight’s extreme view of the First Amendment.

Students are told that the Illinois "Moment of Silence" law is "unconstitutionally vague." Channel One News uses the graphic above to convey the wrong impression that such laws are most certainly "constitutionally vague" when in fact this statement is from ONE man – Robert Gettleman. He’s a U.S. District Court judge in Illinois. It was premature for Channel One to run this story since this case will go much higher in the court system.

“If you’re in a public school where you know that prayer is not allowed because they’re so many different religions and they are making you take a moment of silence don’t you think that that’s a little suspicious?” Like most Knight-funded stories on Channel One this one doesn’t even try to be balanced.

 

 

From Channel One’s Transcript for November 29, 2007

Channel One’s reporter JESSICA: SCHOOLS ACROSS ILLINOIS ARE DEALING WITH A LAW REQUIRING A MOMENT OF SILENCE AT THE BEGINNING OF EVERY SCHOOL DAY. BASICALLY, STUDENTS ARE SUPPOSED TO USE THE TIME TO REFLECT UPON THEIR UPCOMING DAY OR EVEN PRAY.

JESSICA: AS PART OF OUR CONTINUING ONE VOICE SERIES ON THE FIRST AMENDMENT, WE SPOKE WITH ONE TEEN WHO SAYS THIS LAW VIOLATES THE SEPARATION BETWEEN CHURCH AND THE STATE.

TONY: DOES IT FEEL LIKE YOU NEVER CATCH A BREAK AT SCHOOL? GO TO CLASS, TURN IN HOMEWORK, TAKE NOTES, REPEAT. WELL A NEW ILLINOIS LAW IS GIVING STUDENTS A LITTLE TIME TO PAUSE & REFLECT, BUT NOT EVERYONE IS HAPPY.

TONY: THE "SILENT REFLECTION AND STUDENT PRAYER ACT" REQUIRES PUBLIC SCHOOLS TO SET ASIDE A BRIEF MOMENT OF SILENCE AT THE BEGINNING OF EVERY DAY FOR REFLECTION OR PRAYER.

(SOT: Dawn Sherman) “It’s an endorsement of prayer because the primary choice is prayer."

TONY: FOURTEEN-YEAR-OLD DAWN SHERMAN AND HER FATHER ROB, AN OUTSPOKEN ATHEIST ACTIVIST, ARE TAKING DAWN’S SUBURBAN CHICAGO SCHOOL DISTRICT TO COURT OVER THE LAW, SAYING IT VIOLATES THE FIRST AMENDMENT’S MANDATE FOR A SEPARATION BETWEEN CHURCH AND STATE.

TONY: CALLED THE ESTABLISHMENT CLAUSE, THIS SECTION OF THE CONSTITUTION SAYS, THE GOVERNMENT SHALL MAKE NO LAW RESPECTING AN ESTABLISHMENT OF RELIGION.

(SOT: ) "The separation of church and state is important to me because I’m an atheist so I’m the minority. So I still think that I should be treated fairly."

TONY: THE LAW RESTRICTS OVERT RELIGIOUS ACTIVITY, LIKE PRAYING OUT LOUD BUT DOES ALLOW FOR SILENT PRAYER OR MEDITATION.

TONY: AT BUFFALO GROVE HIGH SCHOOL WHERE DAWN ATTENDS FIFTEEN SECONDS FOR SILENCE WERE INCLUDED IN THE MORNING ANNOUNCEMENTS.

TONY: BUT MOST RECENTLY A FEDERAL JUDGE CALLED THE PRACTICE "UNCONSTITUTIONALLY VAGUE" AND HAS ORDERED THE SCHOOL DISTRICT TO PUT IT ON HOLD UNTIL DAWN’S LAWSUIT IS RESOLVED.

TONY: STILL, MORE THAN THIRTY STATES HAVE SIMILAR LAWS THAT ALLOW FOR A MOMENT OF SILENCE IN PUBLIC SCHOOLS. SOME HAVE BEEN CHALLENGED IN COURT, BUT JUDGES HAVE RULED THE EXISTING LAWS COMPLY WITH THE FIRST AMENDMENT.

(SOT: ) “As long as the wording of the law is genuinely neutral towards the issue of whether or not students will be using this moment of silence for prayer or some other type of secular activity, then the law passes constitutional muster.”

TONY: AT PRESTON HIGH SCHOOL IN THE BRONX, NEW YORK, STUDENTS DEBATED ON MOMENT OF SILENCE LAWS AROUND THE COUNTRY.

(SOT: ) “If you’re in a public school where you know that prayer is not allowed because they’re so many different religions and they are making you take a moment of silence don’t you think that that’s a little suspicious?”

(SOT: ) “If you constantly keep thinking of school, school, school when you get to your next class your just going to be like, your not going to be focused. I think it kind of makes you focus a little more on school.”

TONY: BACK IN ILLINOIS, DAWN IS FOCUSING ON HER CASE. IF THE COURT RULES IN HER FAVOR, THE LAW MAY BE OVERTURNED ACROSS THE STATE AND NO MORE SCHOOLS WILL HAVE TO TAKE TIME OUT FOR SILENCE.

(SOT: ) "The whole time that I will be spending at Buffalo Grove High School, it will have taken away four hours out of my class. In algebra, you can learn a lot in four hours.”

TONY: TONY ANDERSON, CHANNEL ONE NEWS.

JESSICA: A RULING ON THE CASE IS EXPECTED IN THE NEXT SEVERAL WEEKS AND YOU CAN GO TO CHANNEL ONE DOT COM AND CLICK ON THAT’S A LAW to DISCOVER other LAWS you may not know about.