[Tallahassee, FL] A bill allowing “inspirational messages” in public schools appeared to be on the cusp of becoming law Wednesday, as the last House committee to consider the bill approved the measure.
Supporters of the measure say that it simply restores the constitutional rights of students by allowing them to decide – without input from school officials – whether an inspirational message should be delivered at school events. Local school boards could decide whether to enact rules allowing the inspirational messages.
“The bill is sorely needed to protect students from the war against religious liberty and free speech,” said John Stemberger, president of the Florida Family Policy Council, which had voiced concerns about an earlier version of the measure.
“The Florida ACLU, the Anti-Defamation League and other left leaning group’s opposition to this bill even after amended is intellectually dishonest, inconsistent with classical liberalism and really exposes their hostility toward religion as expressed by private citizens in the public square,” he said.
But opponents say that the measure is little more than a school prayer bill and a stalking horse for religious messages.
“The reality is, it’s nothing more than a euphemism for prayer,” said Rep. Richard Steinberg (D-106/Miami Beach). “It’s because we can’t say ‘prayer’ in a bill, because we know that the courts will strike it immediately.”
Rep. Charles Van Zant is handling the “inspirational messages” bill in the House
And that, they say, will land the state in court to defend the measure even as revenues for defending such challenges dwindles.
“Religious issues and government generate lots of litigation,” said Pamela Burch Fort with the ACLU of Florida. “And if this measure is enacted, it will invite litigation.”
David Barkey, religious freedom counsel for the Anti-Defamation League, labeled the measure “un-American” in a statement issued after the vote.
“Our public schools are about uniting children as Americans and not dividing along religious lines,” Barkley said.
Supporters pushed back on those notions. Rep. Charles Van Zant, the Keystone Heights Republican from District 21 who’s handling the measure in the House, emphasized that nothing in the bill requires prayer.
“This bill doesn’t mention it – and I didn’t, either,” Van Zant said.
And KrisAnne Hall, a former prosecutor fired for speaking at tea-party gatherings two years ago, blasted the reasoning that the state should reject the measure to avoid litigation.
“Do not shy away from standing for constitutional rights simply because there may be a threat of challenge,” Hall told the committee.
By: The News Service of Florida
Lead image: hpebley3
school prayer bill