Nov 9, 2023

Christian student will receive $150K in suit alleging school meditation program included Hindu ritual

Debra Cassens Weiss
ABA Journal
November 7, 2023

According to a lawsuit, a former public school student was told that she had to participate in a “Quiet Time” meditation program because it counted toward her grades, which determined her eligibility to play basketball. Image from Shutterstock.

A former public school student who alleged that she was coerced to participate in a school meditation ritual that violated her Christian religious beliefs has accepted a $150,000 offer of judgment from the Chicago Board of Education and the foundation that developed the program.

Plaintiff Mariyah Green will receive $75,000 each from the school board and the David Lynch Foundation, according to the Oct. 23 judgment in the case. The amount includes attorney fees and costs. The lawsuit was filed in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois.

A 2020 graduate of Bogan Computer Technical High School in Chicago, Green alleged in a February suit that the “Quiet Time” meditation program violated her First Amendment rights under the establishment and free exercise clauses. She also alleged violation of the Illinois Religious Freedom Restoration Act and the Illinois Constitution, but U.S. District Judge Matthew F. Kennelly tossed those claims for being filed too late in a June 30 opinion and order.

According to the suit, Green was told that she had to participate in the program because it counted toward her grades, which determined her eligibility to play basketball.

Green said she claimed that she had a knee injury to avoid having to kneel before an image of a man “who looked like Buddha.”

The meditation program consisted of two 15-minute sessions on school property during every school day. The program began with a “Puja” initiation ceremony. which is defined in the dictionary as a Hindu act of worship. It involved “various bowls, food items and symbolic items” that were arranged around a picture of Guru Dev, one of the founders of Transcendental Meditation, according to the suit.

Instructors chanted Sanskrit words during the ceremony that recognized the power by various Hindu deities, according to the suit. Students were assigned mantras that they should silently repeat that are drawn from a pool of Sanskrit words that reference specific Hindu deities, the complaint alleged.

In a press release, Green’s lawyer, John Mauck of Mauck & Baker, called the meditation program “an egregious abuse of Mariyah’s religious rights.”

The Chicago Sun-Times and WGN 9 covered the award and published statements by the defendants.

A Chicago Public Schools spokesperson told the Chicago Sun-Times that it removed the Quiet Time program from schools in 2020, but the district still maintains that it did not violate students’ constitutional rights.

“There has not been any finding of liability in this case by a judge or a jury,” the statement said.

The David Lynch Foundation said in a statement the settlement “has no precedential legal effect, contains no findings based upon any evidence presented, and involves no finding of liability by the court against or by any party. The purpose of the offer was to compromise a dispute without any admission of wrongdoing and to control costs and expenses associated with protracted litigation.”

The statement said the Bogan students “voluntarily chose to learn the meditation technique with their parent’s consent and were free to opt out of the program at any time with no negative consequences.”

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