Today, several Florida and national leaders of Americans United for Separation of Church and State sent the following letter to Gov. Rick Scott, urging him to veto a school-prayer bill the Florida House and Senate passed in February and March. The full letter is reproduced below.
On behalf of the Florida members and chapters of Americans United for Separation of Church and State, we write to urge you to veto SB 98. This bill would permit school districts to allow prayers in the form of “inspirational messages” at any school assembly held by an elementary, middle or high school. Each of us are members of differing faiths—one a Baptist minister, one a Presbyterian – USA minister, and one a Rabbi—but all of us agree that this bill would violate the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution and is disrespectful of the religious diversity that makes our state and our nation great. In order to prevent costly litigation to local school districts, and protect the rights of all public-school students, we urge you to veto this misguided legislation.
Allowing the student government to determine whether prayers should be allowed at school events does not insulate the prayers from Constitutional scrutiny. Indeed, this bill would set up a system that mirrors the unconstitutional prayer policy struck down in Santa Fe Independent School District v. Doe. Like in Santa Fe, schools would have to facilitate the prayers and the prayers would take place during school-sponsored events, on school property, and with school equipment that is under school control. Accordingly, the speech would be attributable to the school and subject to the Establishment Clause of the U.S. Constitution. The prayers would also be attributable to the school because the bill would unconstitutionally limit the content and viewpoint of the prayers to those that can be defined as “inspirational messages.” Finally, the bill permits prayer at all school assemblies. Thus, like in Santa Fe, the prayer practice would unconstitutionally coerce students into hearing the prayers. The result of this legislation will certainly be litigation, the costs of which local school boards will be forced to bear.
As ordained clergy members, we know that religious faith is tremendously important in the lives of so many Floridians, and we have seen the strength, solace, and sense of community that can be gained by an active religious commitment. We believe that the ability to worship as one sees fit is a fundamental right that must be protected; however, this bill is a solution in search of a problem – private, voluntary prayer is already allowed in public schools. Students certainly have the right to pray in many circumstances so it is unnecessary to include prayers in school assemblies. Forcing prayer upon public-school students not only violates the rights of those students, it also demeans the spiritual significance of religious belief.
This bill would also allow those of the majority faith to promote their religious beliefs and practices at public school events. Indeed, the Senate Education Committee even eliminated language from the bill that had required the prayers to be “non-sectarian and nonproselytizing.” But, this would make students who believe in minority faiths and who are non-believers feel like outsiders in their own public schools. This is one of the very harms the First Amendment exists to prevent.
In order to fully protect religious liberty, we strongly urge you to veto SB 98. This most basic liberty is built on a foundation of the freedom to exercise one’s religion and the freedom from government interference with religion. Without one part of the foundation, religious freedom will falter. And thus, religious practice and teaching must remain the province of our homes, families, and houses of worship rather than imposed by majority will upon our public-school students. In the interest of protecting religious liberty, we ask that you veto SB 98.
The Rev. Dr. Harold Brockus
President, Pinellas Chapter
Americans United for Separation of Church and State
The Rev. Harry Parrott
President, Clay County Chapter,
Americans United for Separation of Church and State
Rabbi Merrill Shapiro (*)
President, Board of Trustees
President, Flagler County Chapter, Americans United for Separation of Church and State
Writing on behalf of Americans United’s Florida chapters and members.
Northeast Florida Chapter
Northwest Florida Chapter
Nature Coast Chapter
Tampa – Hillsborough County Chapter
Note: Merrill Shapiro chairs the FlaglerLive Board of Directors.
B. Claire says
Gov. Scott is dancing with who brung him.
Every minute the extreme right is in charge another door to the separation of church and state, women’s rights, voter’s rights etc. slams shut. Only hope is for dems to not sleep through elections…or this is what you get…e.g. Citizen’s United ‘Corporations are People’, public schools are also churches -evangelicals only please.
Funny too how these ‘get government out of my life-ers’ see no problem with government forcing women to be bodily invaded with unnecessary, un-paid for Transvaginal Ultrasound Transducer / Probing. Yup, that government mandate is just fine.
What hypocrites…with no capacity to even see their hypocracy.
Nancy N. says
Can I just say – Amen to that! But we haven’t got a prayer of Gov. Scott vetoing this bill, unfortunately.
[Who says atheists don’t have a sense of humor?]
I sent an email to Gov. Scott asking him to please promptly sign this bill SB98. We need God in our lives as well as in our schools.
Nancy N. says
You’re perfectly welcome to have whatever god you want in YOUR life. But that doesn’t mean you have the right to force me and my kid and every other family in the state to have your god in our lives – which is what you’re doing when you insist on having school prayer. LEAVE MY KID ALONE.
Witchy Mamma says
And when my daughter stands up and wants to lead a prayer to Odin, Kwan Yin, Hecate or even the Spaghetti Monster YOUR child will be subject o it. Live YOUR religion in YOUR home, and I’ll keep my religion in my own home. If you are so bent on having religion in your child’s school then enroll them in a private parochial school and leave public schools out of it.
If you want your kid to have God in his/her life at school that bad, enroll him/her in a private religious school. It has no place in a public institution that people of EVERY faith contribute to.
They did the right thing! Excellent letter & I totally agree with Nancy N
Kip Durocher says
religion is like a penis.
it is 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 throat.
Here we go again.
Laws passed countermanding established law.
Everybody sues everybody and the taxpayers get to pay the lawyers for both sides.
Change Wasnington, DC to Bendover, DC.
I wish people would stop trying to change my country, my county and my schools! I was born here in Bunnell. I went to these schools when there was only BES and FPC. There was prayer then, it didn’t hurt anyone then and it’s not hurting anyone now. If you didn’t want to do it, you sat quietly. It’s the same with the pledge. People come to this country and then don’t want to learn English or have their kids say the pledge in school. Well then don’t come here! You come here to be an American then be one! This country was founded on religion and freedom. It wasn’t Christian but it was one God.
Of the 55 delegates to the 1787 Constitutional Convention, 49 were Protestants, and three were Roman Catholics (C. Carroll, D. Carroll, and Fitzsimons). Among the Protestant delegates to the Constitutional Convention, 28 were Church of England (or Episcopalian, after the American Revolutionary War was won), eight were Presbyterians, seven were Congregationalists, two were Lutherans, two were Dutch Reformed, and two were Methodists. A few prominent Founding Fathers were anti-clerical Christians, such as Thomas Jefferson (who created the so-called “Jefferson Bible”) and Benjamin Franklin. A few others (most notably Thomas Paine) were deists, or at least held beliefs very similar to those of deists
IF they can come together and create a country with all their religious differences then why can’t we live in one peacefully?
I remember the classic line when they first banned reciting prayers after the Pledge of Allegiance back when I was in fourth grade. “There will be Prayers in every school as long as there are pop quizzes”