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School Prayer Cloaked as Student-Led Making Another Contested Run at Legalization

| November 2, 2011

A non-denominational pew in a non-denominational church in non-denominational Seaside, Fla. (Bosco T. Jones)

A proposal to permit students to pray or deliver “inspirational messages” at school events was approved by a Senate committee Wednesday, over strong objections from groups dedicated to protecting religious freedoms.

The bill (SB 98) allows school boards to adopt rules allowing the messages, which could include prayer, at “non-compulsory” school events, such as graduations or football games “or any other noncompulsory student assembly.” (The non-compulsory nature of certain assemblies can be a tricky determination, as some assemblies, like pep rallies, may be dubbed non-compulsory in name only, not in practice.) The bill says school personnel may not participate or influence decisions over what type of message is delivered, though the bill itself prescribes that all prayers must be “nonsectarian and non-proselytizing in nature.” The bill does not define “nonsectarian,” nor does it distinguish between non-sectarian prayers that nevertheless invoke God or Jesus and other non-sectarian prayers that may invoke, say, earth, wind or fire. (See the bill text below.)

Only Sen. Ellyn Bogdanoff, R-Fort Lauderdale, who is Jewish, voted against the measure, in the Senate PreK-12 Committee on Wednesday. The measure still has several committee stops before going to the full Senate.

The bill encountered fierce opposition from groups such as the American Civil Liberties Union and the Anti-Defamation League, both of which argued the proposal violates constitutional protections that separate church and state and will have the effect of ostracizing students who do not support the majority’s religious views.

“We must guard against the promotion or endorsement of one particular set of religious beliefs over others,” said Ron Bilbao, a spokesman for ACLU. By letting students choose the type of message, it “submits religious expression to a popular vote,” he said.

Bill sponsor Sen. Gary Siplin, D-Orlando, said he wants to “formalize” school prayer policies to “allow students to get together to have some benediction or invocation” during some school events.

But opponents to the bill say that by putting a policy in place that supports school prayer, it could run afoul of the state and federal constitutions, which expressly prohibit public institutions from supporting religion.

The bill opens the state up to lawsuits, warned ADL lawyer David Barkey.

“It advances religion, it coerces religion in violation of the establishment clause,” Barkey said, referring to a provision in both the state and federal constitution that is designed to prevent laws that promote or favor certain religions in public settings. “It sets up the state and our school districts for litigation, which is unfair.”

This is the third year Siplin has suggested this bill, and last year it did not come up for a vote in the Senate or House. This year, Siplin said it has a better prognosis. “I think it will pass,” he said. “The (House Speaker) appreciates prayer and the (Senate) President appreciates prayer.”

School districts in Florida have already pushed against First Amendment prohibitions. A legislative analysis of Siplin’s bill notes that in August 2008,. the ACLU filed a federal lawsuit against the Santa Rosa County School District, alleging that prayers in school were state-sponsored and violated the Establishment Clause and the no-aid provision of the state constitution. In May 2009, the court issued a permanent injunction against school officials from promoting or endorsing or advancing school prayer in any way at school events, even non-compulsory ones, or holding events at religious venues when non-religious ones are reasonably available. The court subsequently clarified that school employees were not barred from taking part in private religious services, including baccalaureate ceremonies (one such is held annually at Santa Maria Del Mar Church in Flagler Beach).

–Lilly Rockwell, News Service of Florida, and FlaglerLive

Prayer in schools bill, Florida Legislature, Gary Siplin, sponsor (2011) (SB98)

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13 Responses for “School Prayer Cloaked as Student-Led Making Another Contested Run at Legalization”

  1. Liana G says:

    Good move. The more religiosity is allowed in schools, the weaker the argument against taxpayer funded religious education. I recently read that individuals schooled in orthodox religions are prone to civil disobedience versus those educated in environments bombarded with distraction and feel good soma. There’s something to be said for discipline, focus, and structure – gives one room and capacity to think.

  2. rh says:

    As long as it’s about our christian religion it fine. If Islam and other radicals are allowed to introduce their special and self proclaimed religions to get equal time ,then forget the whole idea..

  3. The Geode says:

    Really? Somehow I think you’d apply that thought to only “christian based” religions. If a group of “non-christians” posed the same argument, people’s heads would explode. If you can’t teach your bratty, undisciplined and entitled kids religion at home or your local religious establishment, WHAT makes you think that hearing some drivel at school is going to do?

  4. 2 cents says:

    So freedom of speech is only allowed when it benefits the ACLU? btw, separation of church and state is not mentioned or even hinted at in the constitution.

  5. some guy says:

    Why does the left only read 1/2 of the First admendment?? Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion but they never bring up part 2 OR PROHIBITING THE FREE EXERSISE THEREOF.

  6. NortonSmitty says:

    Where in the hell did the ACLU come from? Look at the language in this resolution. Legaleese and weasel words enough to render any “invocation” bland and meaningless, not “solemn and memorializing. unless the bans on proselytizing and non-sectarian are whittled away (Wink, Wink).

    And the so called Separation clause in the Constitution means that the government can’t interfere with the churches business and the church can’t have any control over the government. Look how well it’s worked out in Iran and everywhere else it’s been tried.

    This bill is just another example of the Republicans pandering to their political base. I don’t care if you pray to Jesus, Mohammed, a Six-Armed girl or a blue elephant. Whatever thousands year old superstitious story you care about, if it brings you a little peace and solace, that’s fine. But if it brings you political power, that’s un-American.

  7. Larry Glinzman says:

    Keep your imaginary sky god with its bible book of horrors to yourself. Pray all you want to yourself. It’s offensive to me and I don’t want to hear it anymore than you want to hear about Allah, Buddha or the other imaginary friends people make up to excuse their behavior and act superior to others.

  8. Jessie Christ says:

    I’m pretty sure that Jesus would say, “Let your actions as a Christian be your voice”. In other words, it doesn’t matter if you can or can’t pray in school, at work, or in WalMart. What matters is how you treat others and the example you lead by. Why are you wasting time and energy fighting over where and when you can pray when you could be out there doing something to benefit all mankind instead of senseless bickering.

    By the way, I’m an atheist. I have sense, not fear. I have control of my actions and my own destiny, not faith that someone or something else will. Amen.

  9. palmcoaster says:

    Norton I agree that a moment of prayer to any God or fundamentals that students could believe in may not do anything else than good to them. But at this moment given the trouble waters that we are sailing in, I would have wish that instead Senator Gary Siplin D- Orlando would have come up with more important proposals, like something about helping Florida to gain jobs or health care for those that have none, needed support for public education. So many more important issues at stake currently, other than school prayer.
    Same attitude shown by congress and senate in DC, taking up frivolous issues bills to discuss and pass, when millions of Americans are out of work, homeless and without health care that need those politicians to present and discuss bills to help them instead.

  10. NortonSmitty says:

    If Jesus would walk into any church today, they would call the cops. Remember the next time you Christian Conservatives go to your MegaChurch any Sunday to hear your sermon about Patriotism and mot rocking the boat the story about old J tearing up the moneylenders in the Church. This act of Civil Disobedience is what led the powers that be to kill him.

    Next time you are told about the invocations about Homosexuality in the Bible, try to remember that this was mentioned sixteen times in the entire book. Greed was mentioned 1,256 times. Gluttony 654. When did your preacher ever tell you to march, protest and vote with that in mind?

    You’re being used.

  11. Kip Durocher says:

    Religion is like a penis.
    It’s fine to have one.
    It’s fine to be proud of it.
    But please don’t whip it out in public and start waving it around,
    And PLEASE don’t try to shove it down my children’s throats.

  12. Liana G says:

    @ the Geode who says

    …”If you can’t teach your bratty, undisciplined and entitled kids religion at home or your local religious establishment, WHAT makes you think that hearing some drivel at school is going to do?”

    If you can help advocate and push through the agenda for school choice, parents of kids with the wonderful attributes you mentioned would very happily leave the public schools to the well behaved, disciplined, perfect kids with their well behaved, discipled, perfect educators and admisinstrators deserving of their handsome and well deserving salaries.

    Also, considering that children spend most of their waking hours at school, that in the state of Florida, Flagler County – a county that leans more liberal than conservative – has the highest rate of STDs/STIs among its young people and, its quality of education leaves a lot to be desired/admired given that is has to cater to a breed of bratty, undisciplined, entitled, poverty stricken, and liberal leaning kids. You know, it seems like some religion might do some good to help this loathsome cesspool of horrible kids.

    Now for all the men on here rejecting religion in public schools, please also post on the article about the 49 year old male caught with the 14 year old. When vocal decent upstanding males speak up against this dominant male pedophilia practice, positive change can result.

  13. NortonSmitty says:

    Right Liana, that worked out so well in the Catholic Church.

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