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Florida Governor Scott Signs Controversial School Prayer Bill

Florida Governor Scott Signs Controversial School Prayer Bill

A bill that allows school boards to permit student-initiated prayer and other “inspirational messages” at public school assemblies has been signed into law by Florida Governor Rick Scott.

Public schools in the U.S. are banned from conducting religious observances such as prayer. The legal basis for this prohibition is the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment to the United States Constitution, which provides the foundation for the separation of church and state. It states:”Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.”

So how can Governor Scott sign this piece of legislation into law?

That’s simple: the bill, SB 98, refers only to inspirational messages and does not use the word “prayer” in the text. However, opponents argue that the term “inspirational message” is simply a euphemism for prayer, and supporters acknowledge that such messages could include prayer.

The bill passed both chambers of the Florida Legislature largely along party lines with Republicans favoring it and most of the opposition from Democrats, although Sen. Gary Siplin, D-Orlando, sponsored the Senate version.

The law, effective July 1, allows school districts to create policies that authorize students to deliver “inspirational messages” at public events. It does not, however, require school boards to adopt inspiration message policies, but students would have discretion over the content of their messages if permitted by the board. So the burden will be on individual school districts to decide whether to allow students to pray or deliver “inspirational messages” during public events.

Critics who had lobbied the governor to veto SB 98 immediately refocused their attention on school boards, warning that implementing the policy would guarantee a court battle.

From The Tampa Bay Times:

“Legislators are clearly inviting Florida school boards to plunge into a legal swamp,” said Rev. Barry W. Lynn, executive director of Americans United for Separation of Church and State. “I hope school board members turn down the invitation. It’s wrong to subject students to coercive prayer and proselytizing.”

(…)

The American Civil Liberties Union, Anti-Defamation League and Americans United lobbied for a veto along with individual faith leaders who challenged the bill’s constitutionality and said it could lead to bullying or intolerance.

“This was a bill that we said would alienate students, make them feel like outsiders in their own classrooms just because they don’t belong to the same faith as some of their classmates, or possibly have them be compelled by peer pressure to participate in religious activity that differed from their own family’s religious heritage,” ACLU spokesman Baylor Johnson said.

Looks like Governor Scott had better start praying for a good legal team.

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Photo Credit: Gage Skidmore

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192 comments

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8:46AM PDT on May 26, 2012

Noted!

10:26AM PDT on Apr 5, 2012

Tony, as we all know, there were at least a dozen other gospels and early Christian texts that not only got edited out, but destroyed under pain of burning by the early Catholic church. Thank God for whoever dug that hole at Nag Hammadi.

But they may have missed one. Checkout http://ramon_k_jusino.tripod.com/magdalene.html. An amateur biblical scholar makes a very interesting case that the much debated author of the Gospel according to John was Mary Magdalene, whose name and gender were hidden by some ham-handed editing. How much would it support the "wife of Jesus" theory if it turned out that Mary was the "disciple whom Jesus loved"?

10:16AM PDT on Apr 5, 2012

Jamie, you're missing the geographic factor – this is Florida, Dude. Wait 'til some Cubans or Haitians or Dominicans want to sacrifice a live goat as part of a voluntary student initiated public prayer, or some chickens just before the basketball team takes the floor. Better yet, wait 'til some Seminole originalists want to sacrifice a White guy before a Florida State game.

That's so bogus, man. The church can tell babes no coverage and no contraceptives, but we can't burn one lousy redneck at the stake in Tallahassee? It's not like there's a shortage. We got a shot at an undefeated season here. Where's your damn school spirit? I read the first amendment and there's nothing in there about not lighting up crackers. Somebody call Dennis Banks and get a parade permit. See if Rachel Maddow can do live coverage.

11:01AM PDT on Apr 4, 2012

Boy are they going to be suprised when they find out they just legalized Wiccan, Hindu, Muslim, Pagan, etc etc etc prayer right there in public. hehehe.

10:09PM PDT on Apr 3, 2012

Juanita, you say that the holy bible was God's holy word. How come there are only 4 gospels and there were 12 apostles. Did the other 8 have nothing to say or is it possible that what they had to say contradicted the other 4 and were left out because it would take away some of the power from the men? Maybe in the writings of the other 8 Jesus said that men and women were equal but the men who were in charge at the time and in the future did not want that. Just asking.
If everybody followed the Golden Rule that I believe is in every religion in one form or another. Do unto others as you would have done unto you. If all the religious books all of a sudden disappeared and we had to live with just that one rule, we would have Heaven on earth.

9:17PM PDT on Apr 3, 2012

When you try and vote the party of NO out you better make sure that you can vote. Some States have changed their voter registration laws so that even if you wanted to vote you won't be able to. PLEASE CHECK the voter registration laws of the States that you live in NOW, so that you can have the right ID when it comes time to vote. PLEASE tell ALL your friends about this, especially students, seniors, immigrants and the poor. I am sure that the 1% will be flocking to the voting booths so that they can retain their power and money. The 99% had better start THINKING about what will happen if the republicans get in again. For example, no contraceptives which will lead to more people. Right now 8 BILLION PLUS. No abortions even for sick babies, unwanted babies because of rape or incest. No Jobs, undrinkable water because of fracking, war with Iran, no health care. Abstinence programs only, which do not work and many others. Sex Education is needed so that unwanted pregnancy and abortion can be lessened along with STD’S that can KILL your child. So if you don't vote and get as many as you can to vote along with you and the republicans get into power this may and probably will happen. Here is an idea, car pool with a car full to the voting booths (saves gas) and after you vote, have a party and KNOW that you have done your best for your country. Have a designated driver. PLEASE REMEMBER, DON'T DRINK AND DRIVE.

8:32AM PDT on Apr 3, 2012

This is just using children to push an agenda. Does this have anything to do with education? NO! Does this create a welcoming environment for all children? NO! It elevates religion and belief and creates bias and division, not only between the religious and non-religious but also between various religions. The 2001 edition of the World Christian Encyclopedia states that there are 33,830 different Christian denominations alone. Each would have an opportunity to broadcast their beliefs under the pretense of praying or giving an "inspirational message". This would not only put a burden on teachers, but cause embarrassment, chaos and confusion for the children. It's amazing how many Christians don't know what Jesus actually taught. “And when you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the street corners to be seen by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full. But when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.” (Matthew 6:5-6) Public schools are not churches or pulpits, the children are there to learn facts not doctrines. Even if the doctrines come from the innocent who are simply being used as tools.

Atheists should post "inspirational messages" for children to orate about how freeing it is to be a non-believer.

9:49PM PDT on Apr 2, 2012

Separation of church and state, the foundation of our country. English came her to escape the Church of England requirement to join. Pray to your god to yourself. Pray in your church. Children come to school to receive education in subjects, not faith.

12:49PM PDT on Apr 2, 2012

(con't) Sorry, didn't get a chance to finish my thought....Obama in 2012, along with a filibuster-proof Democrat majority in both the House and Senate, and watch good things get done. Vote!!!

11:52AM PDT on Apr 2, 2012

Ang, is it possible you were busy praying when the class was learning what the caps lock key does and why leaving it on in no way enhances any perception of intelligence?

Prayer should be between you and your god, not a public display. What difference is there between the person who prays for all to see and the person who does good works publicly? As the gospel notes, their reward is only to their vanity in the here and now.

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