Students describe “quiet time” sessions in some Chicago public schools as taking place in a darkened room lit by candles and infused with burning incense. Instructors “chanted in a foreign language” and “threw rice, seasonings, and oranges in a pan in front of a picture of a man,” Jade Thomas, a rising sophomore at Bogan Computer Technical High School, told the Chicago Tribune in July 2019. “I felt uncomfortable because I didn’t know what they were saying or who the man was in the picture.”
A group of parents, students, teachers, and churches filed a lawsuit on Aug. 3 against the Chicago Public Schools and two other organizations over the use of a Hindu-based meditation program in some schools. The suit argues the district and its partners violated the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution by endorsing Hindu beliefs and the religious practice of “transcendental meditation.”
The schools’ meditation practices include two 15-minute “quiet time” segments during the day. The district formed a partnership with the University of Chicago and filmmaker David Lynch’s foundation to implement the program, which aims to curb student violence and behavior problems. Lynch is a known proponent of the Eastern religion, and his foundation funds the initiative while the university researches progress and outcomes. District officials claim the sessions are optional, but students and parents complain that is not clearly communicated and many teens feel coerced into religious expressions against their will.
Various strains of Eastern meditation, including contentious yoga programs, lurk in schools nationwide under the “mindfulness” banner. Supporters say the practices can reduce stress in children, boost academic performance, and alleviate behavior problems. But religious scholars and atheists often agree that even secularized versions of Eastern religions have no place in America’s public schools. —L.E.