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Florida Senate Approves School Prayer Bill, 31-8

| February 2, 2012

Coming to a school event near you.

The Senate passed a measure that will allow school districts to let students offer inspirational messages, including prayer, at school events as long as adults stay out of the way.

Wednesday’s passage of the bill (SB 98) on a 31-8 vote sends it to the House, where it is thought to be likely to pass. The bill was sponsored by a Democrat, Sen. Gary Siplin of Orlando, though all those who opposed the bill were Democrats.

Its approval came over the objections of senators who said the measure will lead to prayers at school events that students can’t get out of, including possibly in classes, and that some young students will have to listen to prayers or risk being ostracized because they come from a different religious tradition than most of their classmates.

“I implore you to protect minority students … and not promote alienation,” said Sen. Eleanor Sobel, D-Hollywood. “We want our public school students to get along.”

But backers of the bill said the measure is needed to protect the religious freedom of students, some of whom now feel they aren’t allowed to offer prayers that the student body, or a large part of it can listen to – that they’re only allowed to pray to themselves or in small groups.

In that way the bill is about freedom of expression – the right of students to be heard when they’re expressing a religious message, said Sen. Joe Negron, R-Stuart.

“This is about protecting the rights of students to talk,” he said, saying that he rejected the notion that “religious expression should somehow be eliminated from the public square.”

Negron said efforts to remove religion from public discourse have resulted in discrimination against the religious – preventing them from expressing their beliefs in public while at school events.

“I don’t park my religious beliefs, my political beliefs, my economic beliefs, my sports beliefs – you don’t park your rights at the school door,” Negron said. “The reasons Sen. Siplin has to do this bill is these rights are being trampled.”

Many of those who spoke against the bill on the Senate floor were Jewish, including Sobel and Sen. Nan Rich, D-Weston, who said she remembered that in the Miami Beach of her childhood there were establishments with signs that said “no dogs, no Jews, no blacks.”

“The same feelings of exclusion come welling up” with the bill the Senate debated and passed on Wednesday, she said. “Anyone who doesn’t go along with it is considered the other. This is especially true with children. Anything that makes you different can subject you to ridicule and abuse.”

Rich and several other opponents noted that the constitution protects the rights of children to pray now.

Siplin reminded colleagues that the bill is permissive – school boards don’t have to allow anything, if they don’t want. And the measure doesn’t represent government dictating any type of religious message, because it specifically says that teachers and other school personnel are prohibited from having anything to do with the message. The choice to offer an inspirational message at a school event would have to be up to the student, and no adults would be able to censor what it is the student wants to say.

One supporter of the proposal, Sen. Don Gaetz, R-Niceville, while speaking in favor of the bill, warned his colleagues that in order to support the measure they had to accept the notion that those messages may not always be a Christian prayer, or even a Jewish one. With adults not allowed to tell students what they can or can’t say – some messages could be unsettling.

“At a graduation ceremony a student might stand up and say I give my thanks to Allah, and let me explain why,” said Gaetz. “A student might stand up and say I’m a Wiccan and let me explain why. We have to be prepared for the full expression of religion and I am.”

All eight senators voting against the bill were Democrats: Sens. Audrey Gibson, Arthenia Joyner, Gwen Margolis, Nan Rich, Jeremy Ring, Maria Sachs, Chris Smith and Eleanor Sobel.

–David Royce, News Service of Florida

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8 Responses for “Florida Senate Approves School Prayer Bill, 31-8”

  1. Fred Peterson via Facebook says:

    But who are they going to be praying to??? And who CAN’T they pray to??

  2. Angela Smith via Facebook says:

    And of COURSE a student will feel free to pray to Allah, Buddha, or the Flying Spaghetti Monster?

  3. Kip Durocher says:

    The Supreme Court has upheld No prayer every time this
    has got to them under many guises.
    But this bought and paid for court is a different legal animal.
    Run the issue up to them and they will stamp it ok.
    Kneel to jesus or no education for you!

  4. Tom Brown via Facebook says:

    So, will everybody’s religious speech be given equal treatment, including that of the atheist, agnostic, Jew, Muslim and other faith minorities? After everyone has had their turn at leading prayer, will there be any time left for learning algebra or studying the Constitution. Let’s have our schools be schools and not churches. They can teach about the impact of religion, which is important for understanding our history and culture, but let’s not endorse any specific religious belief. Probably this bill, if enacted, will be quickly challenged, so the real winners will be costly lawyers. Amen!

  5. jespo says:

    “…teachers and other school personnel are prohibited from having anything to do with the message.” Yeah right. Body swaying, hand clapping, mouthing the prayer’s words, or ‘amen-ing’…these all condone the prayer and are violations of the measure, per other states court cases….I would expect the ADULTS to maintain their composure during the heavenly solicitation for whatever is being solicited from the invisible big guy. Great job Florida to prepare children for bronze age perceptions and not today’s reality…wonderful decision…excellent….morons. I hope there are Wiccans in the crowd, I really really do…those people can pray and i would give anything to see the looks on people’s faces when they realize what they brought upon themselves….

  6. Nancy N says:

    Religion does not belong in schools. I don’t care if the “majority” wants it. The constitution is about protecting the rights of the minority from the tyranny of the majority. My daughter has a right to not have other people’s religious beliefs forced down her throat as a condition of getting her free public education. Are they going to let atheists get up and talk about why they believe that there ISN’T a higher power? I doubt it. Why does prayer have to be public and group lead? It can be done quietly and privately, anytime you want. Nothing is stopping you. Stop forcing it on my kid!!!!

  7. Doug Chozianin says:

    We need school prayer, now.

    How else will they be able to get good Reading and Math Teachers and a School Board that cares about educating our kids?

  8. Devrie says:

    I really think that if a student leads a prayer, it shouldn’t be frowned upon. The state cannot really step on his or her right to do that, really. It should be allowed regardless of religion, and I doubt that it will overtake thinks, because students aren’t generally the main public speaker at events.

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