Nov 1, 2023

Transcendental Meditation-based ‘Quiet Time’ program sparks Chicago school lawsuit

Complaint alleges spiritual indoctrination sessions, First Amendment violations

Mark A. Kellner
The Washington Times
August 19, 2021

A religious rights legal battle over Transcendental Meditation and classroom “Quiet Time” got new life this week when a federal district court judge reinstated the University of Chicago and the David Lynch Foundation, operated by the “Twin Peaks” director, as defendants along with Chicago’s public school system.

The suit, filed on behalf of Bogan Computer Technical High School student Amontae Williams and other plaintiffs, alleges Chicago Public Schoos (CPS) officials instituted the “Quiet Time” program sponsored by the Lynch Foundation via the University of Chicago, despite knowing of its intention to have students participate in Transcendental Meditation, a spiritual technique critics allege is rooted in Hinduism. 

Federal Judge Matthew F. Kennelly of the Northern District of Illinois Court said both the University and the Lynch Foundation knew about the religious motivations behind the “Quiet Time” effort and that it could reasonably be argued that the David Lynch Foundation (DLF) specifically targeted the students for religious indoctrination.

“The court does not view this as an implausible allegation with regard to either entity: DLF is claimed to have created the program as part of its mission of “widespread implementation of Transcendental Meditation,’” Judge Kennelly wrote. “[G]iven its background, it is certainly  plausible that DLF knew of the aspects of Transcendental Meditation and the Quiet Time program that are claimed to have caused the program to run afoul of the First Amendment.”

Noting that the University of Chicago is said to have vetted and helped design the program, “it is likewise plausible that the university was aware of the same features of the program that are alleged to have made it unconstitutional,” the judge found.

The University of Chicago and the Lynch Foundation helped CPS initiate the “Quiet Time” effort in 2015 as part of an effort to see if the Eastern meditation program once promoted by The Beatles and other celebrities could reduce arrests for violence among the city’s youths. Chicago’s poorer neighborhoods are plagued by gun violence and other attacks, and it’s not uncommon for police to report dozens of gun-related attacks each weekend.

The school system ended the program in 2019 when students and parents complained at a school board meeting about the ceremonies and mantras that came with “Quiet Time.” Mr. Williams is seeking compensatory and punitive damages over what he said was his being forced to go through a TM initiation ritual and meditation sessions that left him disoriented. The plaintiffs also seek to make this a class-action suit, which could open the way to many more challenges of the program.

“One day when we were supposed to start a meditation session, I informed my classmates about how our mantras were the names of Hindu gods,” Mr. Williams said in a declaration to the district court. “I also warned my classmates that the TM instructors were lying about the ‘Puja’ [initiation] ceremony and chanting meaning nothing. The teacher then took me to the principal’s office for telling these things to my classmates.”

Bob Roth, CEO of the David Lynch Foundation, stressed what he said were the proven health benefits of meditation and its ecumenical appeal in defending the program.

“The Transcendental Meditation program has been learned by over 10 million people of all religions and cultures throughout the world during the past 50 years, including many millions of people here in the United States,” Mr. Roth told The Washington Times

“It is provided in businesses and hospitals as a health promotion tool and offered in community centers to high-risk young people for its significant stress-reducing benefits — benefits that have been documented by extensive, peer-reviewed research. In fact, the National Institutes of Health has awarded over $26 million to evaluate its benefits for high blood pressure and cardiovascular disease.”

The foundation, he added, “is confident that any misunderstandings about the nature of this practice will be corrected when properly reviewed.”

But Mr. Williams said he was threatened with suspension for protesting the “Quiet Time” ceremonies, and that his coerced participation violates the Illinois Religious Freedom Restoration Act, which says in part that “government may not substantially burden a person’s exercise of religion.”

Aryeh Siegel, a former top executive of the Transcendental Movement’s U.S. branch who stopped practicing the discipline in 1981, called this week’s events “a massive victory, that a judge is allowing this young man to sue the Chicago Public Schools, on these grounds, that there was a coercive practice of religion.”

Mr. Siegel said he has devoted a section of his “Transcendental Deception” website to documenting the continuing efforts of the Lynch Foundation to promote TM in the nation’s schools.

Mark A. Kellner can be reached at

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