updated 3/19/2008 10:21:50 PM ET 2008-03-20T02:21:50

A federal judge favors expanding a legal challenge to a mandatory moment of silence in classrooms into a class-action lawsuit that would include all Illinois school districts.

Judge Robert W. Gettleman said Wednesday that he also plans to expand the plaintiff's side of the lawsuit to include all students, instead of just the one suburban teenage girl who sued to block the Silent Reflection and Student Prayer Act.

"A bilateral class is the only way to go here," Gettleman said.

Gettleman said he wants to hear from both sides before extending an injunction he issued in November temporarily blocking the state superintendent from enforcing the Illinois law, which requires a brief period of prayer or reflective silence at the start of every school day.

He also wants the sides to plan how to inform school districts of the class action and whether districts can opt out of the case.

Some districts require the daily silence, following the state act that went into effect in October.

Other districts, including Chicago, have stopped enforcing the law as they wait for the court to decide on its constitutionality, said Illinois assistant attorney general Thomas Ioppolo.

Move to make it optional
Meanwhile, legislation has been introduced in Springfield to remove the words "student prayer" from the law and make it optional.

"I was hoping, frankly, this was further along in the legislative process," the judge said at Wednesday's hearing. "I was hoping we'd avoid spending resources on all sides."

The lawsuit was filed by talk show host Rob Sherman, an outspoken atheist, and his daughter, a freshman at Buffalo Grove High School.

Sherman contends the law represents an attempt to inject religion into the public schools. Lawmakers passed the measure over Democratic Gov. Rod Blagojevich's veto.

The judge set March 28 for the next hearing.

Copyright 2008 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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