The request by Rabbi Merrill Shapiro, Rev. Harold Brockus and Rev. Harry Parrott – leaders of Americans United for Separation of Church and State – came in the form of a joint letter, reports the Orlando Sentinel.
“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,” the men of differing faiths wrote.
“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,” the letter stated.
As previously reported by Sunshine Slate, the so-called school prayer measure would allow students to deliver “inspirational messages” at school events. It was sponsored in the upper chamber by Sen. Gary Siplin (D-19/Orlando).
Supporters said the law would simply reaffirm the right of Florida students under the First Amendment to proclaim their religious beliefs without fear of being restricted by government. They said the country was in danger of becoming un-moored from the religious traditions that guide the nation.
Sen. Gary Siplin sponsored the “school prayer” bill
“Liberate these children and let them learn about real freedom,” said Rep. Dennis Baxley (R-24/Ocala).
But opponents of the bill said it would lead to “school prayer,” potentially offensive messages and could ensnare school districts in costly lawsuits. That means the school districts or the state having to defend a law they said came too close to the state establishment of a religion barred by the Bill of Rights.
“We are going to get sued on this,” said Rep. Jim Waldman (D-95/Coconut Creek). “It’s not even a close call.”
Waldman was one of several Jewish members of the House who said that in many school districts inspirational messages will inevitably be Christian prayers that invoke Jesus and by definition, ostracize any Jewish children who happen to attend – and maybe others – who won’t feel welcome at public schools.
“We were in the minority always, and we felt it,” said Waldman about growing up Jewish. “This is just another attempt at dividing us and eliminating us. And we feel very strongly about this.”
Gov. Scott will have to sign the bill this week or it will be automatically vetoed.
By: Mark Christopher/Sunshine Slate. Additional reporting by Brandon Larrabee & David Royse/The News Service of Florida
Image: Gov.’s Office