Former CPS student awarded $150,000 in religious freedom suit over ‘Hinduistic’ meditation program

A federal judge has awarded $150,000 in damages and legal fees to a former Chicago Public Schools student who said she was forced to participate in "Hinduistic rituals" that violated her constitutional religious rights.

U.S. District Judge Matthew Kennelly ruled last week in favor of Mariyah Green, who had filed a lawsuit alleging she felt coerced to participate in the Quiet Time meditation program at Bogan High School despite her Christian beliefs.

In a statement, John Mauck, Green’s attorney, described the program as "a thinly veiled Hinduistic religious program" that asked participants "to make obeisance various ways to a member of the Hindu deities."

"Mariyah Green’s Christian faith and her dedication to Jesus Christ makes worship of others, such as these idols, unthinkable," her attorney said.

Green believed she had to participate in the program because she was told cooperation would count toward her grades, and she did not want to be kicked off the basketball team for poor academics, Mauck said. She had transferred to the school specifically for its basketball program.

In an email statement, a CPS spokesperson said the district removed the program from its schools in 2020 "but maintains that Quiet Time did not violate any student’s constitutional rights."

The judge’s decision was the result of a "voluntary resolution between the parties akin to a settlement," the spokesperson said in the statement. "The District has always denied, and continues to deny, any liability as a result of Quiet Time, and there has not been any finding of liability in this case by a judge or a jury."

Both the Chicago Board of Education and the David Lynch Foundation, which developed the program, were named in the lawsuit. CPS is responsible for paying $75,000, and so is the foundation, which didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment Thursday evening.

The foundation’s website states the meditation program is intended to reduce "toxic levels of stress" in the lives of young people, and can lead to an increase in graduation rates and a reduction in school-wide suspensions.

In the lawsuit, Green alleges the "Transcendental Meditation" program was held during school hours, and students were required to participate in an initiation ceremony called a "Puja" — an "expression of gratitude" to the dead founders of the practice.

During the "Puja," instructors chanted words in Sanskrit containing "statements recognizing the power possessed by various Hindu deities and invitations to those same Hindu deities to channel their powers" without telling students what they meant, the suit states.

Green learned of the "hidden religious nature" of the program and shared the information with other CPS students and teachers at Bogan. When teachers reminded her to meditate, she told them it "was not normal" and asked why students weren’t learning, the suit alleges.

Green, who graduated from Bogan in 2020, felt "alone and angry" when her opinions on the program weren’t respected and she was not given a choice about whether to participate. Mauck said the program "was an egregious abuse of Mariyah’s religious right."

"We thank the court for the recognition of the critical Constitutional issues at stake here. Mariyah Green’s concerns have been justified, her voice has been heard, and the offending parties have been held accountable."