Republican Dominated Florida Legislature Passes Bill Allowing Prayer In School
Republicans in Florida have pushed a bill through the State Legislature that allows school boards to set school prayer policies. Sponsored by Democratic Senator Gary Siplin, the bill was just aimed at allowing school prayer at non-compulsory events in secondary schools, but the Senate added an amendment allowing prayer at all events in all grade levels. Though sponsored by a Democrat, the bill was passed along party lines, with all Republicans voting for the bill. The bill was passed by the House on Thursday, also along partisan lines, and now goes to Governor Rick Scott for his signature.
SB 98 gives students the power to deliver “inspirational messages” during school events such as assemblies, rallies, sporting events, graduation ceremonies, and could lead to school prayer in classrooms. Such messages would have to be voted on by students and a student must volunteer to give the message. School staff are prohibited from interfering in any way, which seems like a contradictory rule since school board members are considered school staff and will be setting the parameters. This means that school boards could easily dictate what kind of “inspirational message” is allowed. The board could simply only allow Christian themed messages, which would alienate religions such as Islam and Judaism, and would force non-religious students to endure prayer. And since Christians are the majority in America, it’s likely Christian prayer will be the dominant message.
According to CBS Miami,
“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.”
So, the backers freely admit that students are allowed to pray already, they just object because they think students should be able to force everyone to listen to their religious views. Basically, this bill gives Christian students the advantage because they can easily outvote students of other religions and then allow a Christian volunteer to deliver a message they create on their own. Adults are supposedly not allowed to help but the bill can’t stop parents from influencing the message their kids take to school with them and there really is no way to police school staff from covertly influencing students. And since one can define classroom activities as an assembly of students, nothing can stand in the way of students leading prayers there either, as long as the school board approves. And this bill applies to all grades, which means easily manipulated elementary students could be exposed to religion against the wishes of parents. In other words, this is indoctrination.
This bill is such an obvious attempt to Christianize public schools. According to a report by the Orlando Sentinel,
“[Governor Rick] Scott didn’t give a firm yes or no when asked Thursday whether he would sign the bill, but he is expected to do so. “I haven’t seen the bill, but I believe in Jesus Christ, and I believe individuals should have a right to say a prayer,” he said.” GOP Rep. Charles Van Zant, the sponsor of the House version, “has a Masters of Divinity and attended Western Baptist Theological Seminary.” And Jerry Newcombe of Christian Right group Truth in Action Ministries, “hailed the new legislation,” stating that
“What we have now is massive censorship of God from our public schools. We’re teaching kids that they’re basically the product of time and chance and random force. Then we’re shocked when they commit acts of violence.”
So if it wasn’t clear before that this bill is all about forcing Christianity upon public schools, it should be now. The fact is, Republicans have time and time again sought to pass creationism bills and school prayer bills across the country. Their disdain for the American foundation of separation of church and state established by the Founding Fathers is absolute. School prayer is not banned in school. Students are already allowed to pray to themselves and in small groups of students who wish to participate. But this bill forces students of other religions or none at all to endure prayer from Christian students. It’s highly unlikely that school boards will allow Islamic prayers or messages that are not religious to be delivered by students. And since students vote for the message, it’s more likely that Christian prayers are pretty much guaranteed. Furthermore, unless school boards act carefully, students could potentially inject hate speech against ethnic groups such as Jews and African-Americans, and other groups such as homosexuals and call it “inspirational.” It puts religion in a place it doesn’t belong and will serve as a distraction that creates conflict in our schools. When kids feel discriminated against, when they feel powerless and alienated, when they don’t feel they are accepted or belong, that is when violence occurs. This bill is a land mine of lawsuits waiting to happen, and unfortunately, schools would have to waste precious dollars on attorneys and court proceedings instead of spending the cash on improving education. This bill will serve as a model for Republican legislatures in other states to copy, and proves once again that the GOP cares more about killing religious freedom and freedom of conscience than they do about the education of our kids and fixing the economic mess they created.