CHICAGO (LifeSiteNews) — A high school student recently won a lawsuit against the Chicago school system, which forced her to participate in Hindu practices, amounting to idolatry in violation of her Christian beliefs.
The Board of Education of Chicago, the University of Chicago, and the David Lynch Foundation were sued by Mariyah Green, a former student at Bogan High School, for mandating student participation in Hindu rituals despite conflicting religious beliefs. She was granted $150,000 on October 23 by an Illinois circuit court.
Bogan students were required to participate in a program titled “Quiet Time,” which consisted of two 15-minute periods each day dedicated to the practice of “transcendental meditation” (TM), which was popularized by Hindu guru Maharishi Mahesh Yogi and involves concepts used in Hinduism, such as mantras.
Green, a 2020 high school graduate, told LifeSiteNews in a phone interview that in addition to the 15-minute periods of “meditation” each day, the school sponsored a three-day class to teach students “the way that they want you to meditate.”
During the 2018-2019 school year, Green attended the first day of this three-day lesson, which she described as “very uncomfortable.” Students came into a “completely dark” classroom with “curtains closed [and] candles around the picture of [a] man,” which had been placed on a table in front of them.
“I was actually scared for a moment, like, what is going on? Why are the lights off? Why do the candles light the man? Of course, the picture kind of threw me off because it wasn’t [anything] that I had ever seen.”
Additionally, Green and her peers were instructed to “repeat a mantra” that they were told to keep “to yourself.” After the first day, Green told LifeSiteNews that she was able to opt out of future participation in the three-day lessons but not the 15-minute periods each day.
Aside from teachers casually asking when she would be returning to the class, she didn’t receive backlash for opting out of the lessons. She described them as “nice people, but it was against my religion.”
On the other hand, the “very mandatory” 15-minute slots designated for TM were linked to student grades, leaving Green feeling obligated to participate so she wouldn’t lose the academic standards required for her to play basketball at the school. During these times, Green said she “didn’t do it their way” and “didn’t keep the mantra in my head,” instead closing her eyes so it “looked like I was meditating” to receive participation credit.
Green further described the 15-minute “quiet time” as similar to a “lockdown” since students weren’t allowed to leave the classrooms. She noted that one of these periods took place during her art class, and students weren’t allowed to even draw a picture during that time.
“I never understood it,” she said, adding that it made little sense to play soothing music and turn off the lights for 15 minutes, leaving students potentially drowsy before being required to pick back up with their days. She also said that, although she was a minor at the time, “they never gave you [a] consent form” for parents to sign and that “the only way [my mom] knew about it was when I went home and told her.”
Judith Kott, one of the attorneys representing Green in her case, told LifeSiteNews in the same phone interview that the complaint, which was filed in February 2023, “alleged that it was the First and Fourteenth Amendment constitutional violation of the Free Exercise Clause, which basically allows, under the Constitution, for the right for someone to believe in your own faith.”
Additionally, the suit said that the Board of Education and the David Lynch Foundation had violated “the Establishment Clause, which bars the government from taking sides for favoring or disfavoring anyone based on their religion or belief.”
Kott explained that while the defendants “will often say” students “had a choice” and didn’t need to participate in the specific meditation of the 15-minute “quiet time,” each period was announced through the school, instructing students to “clear your desks” and “sit up straight.” She said those who would have preferred to read a book or do homework were unable to do so.
Additionally, the culture at the school promoted transcendental meditation through hallways that were “littered with posters” and teachers who would “randomly stop Mariyah and say, hey, you know, have you meditated?”
Although the order states that a judgment was made in favor of Green, Kott specified to LifeSiteNews that the resolution of the case was technically a Federal Rule of Civil Procedure, meaning the case never went to trial or before a judge. Instead, the defendants “approached us” and offered $75,000 each from the Board and the David Lynch Foundation “to resolve the case.”
LifeSiteNews has contacted attorneys Jim Sipchen and Tiffany Fordyce, respectively representing the David Lynch Foundation and the Chicago Board of Education, for comment. Upon prompting from Fordyce, LifeSiteNews also contacted Melissa Stratton, the chief of communications for Chicago Public Schools. Neither Sipchen nor Stratton immediately responded to the request.
‘Stress management’ or religious indoctrination?
According to the David Lynch Foundation (DLF) website, the nonprofit organization was established in 2005 by filmmaker David Lynch and strives “to prevent and eradicate the all-pervasive epidemic of trauma and toxic stress among at-risk populations through promoting widespread implementation of the evidence-based Transcendental Meditation (TM).”
In addition to programs designed for veterans, victims of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), healthcare workers, and first responders, DLF launched the “Quiet Time” initiative specifically aimed at students in public schools. DLF partnered with the University of Chicago to implement the program in the city’s schools, leading to much consternation from the community.
One of the primary functions of the program are two 15-minute periods of “quiet time” in both the morning and afternoon. Additionally, the program provides “Transcendental Meditation lessons for all interested youth and faculty.” The language in a case study document states that the school community is “invited to learn how to use meditation to reduce their chronic stress.”
Although organization documents do not mention Hindu or other religious rituals and refer to TM as a “secular technique,” students whose schools have implemented the Quiet Time programs have reported a different experience.
Over the past few years, multiple lawsuits have been filed against DLF accusing the organization of being aware of TM’s link to Hinduism and enforcing the practice of worshipping idols rather than allowing students to read or rest during the 15-minute “quiet time.”
Kott told LifeSiteNews that there are “two other cases” pending in court, one of which involves another former student, Kaya Hudgins, who was recruited by TM instructors to “promote” the practice “with other students.”