Student ‘inspirational messages’ poised for final passageby Dara Kam | February 29th, 2012
A measure allowing public school students to offer ‘inspirational messages’ at assemblies is set for final passage tomorrow despite objections from Democrats and civil rights groups that the proposal is unconstitutional and could prompt bullying.
After tomorrow’s almost certain passage by the Florida House – the Senate has already signed off on the measure – the bill will go to Gov. Rick Scott for approval. Scott has said he will likely sign the measure into law.
The House spent more than an hour on questions about school prayer before rolling the bill over for a vote tomorrow. Democrats questioned the measure’s constitutionality and raised concerns about putting students of different faiths at odds and potential bullying of students whose faiths makes them a minority.
But the arguments failed to convince the proposal’s House and Senate sponsors – both present during a question-and-answer period on the House floor – to back away from their bill (SB 98).
Sen. Gary Siplin, a Democrat from Orlando, crafted the measure using court rulings outlining constitutional shortcomings in school prayer practices. But the ACLU has said the measure remains unconstitutional and will likely wind up in court.
The proposal would give school boards permission to allow students to offer prayers at mandatory school assemblies as long as adults are not involved in the creation of the prayers and do not participate in the invocations.
School boards can already adopt such policies, argued Rep. Dwight Bullard, D-Miami.
“Why do we need a bill to fix a problem if there isn’t one?” Bullard, a teacher, asked.
School board members are confused about what they are allowed to do when it comes to prayer, said House sponsor Charles Van Zandt, R-Keystone Heights.
And Van Zandt said the measure will give all students the opportunity to practice their constitutional rights to free speech.
Rep. Jeff Clemens, D-Lake Worth, asked what the definition of an ‘inspirational message’ outlined in the bill would be and if the Aryan Satanic Manifesto would qualify.
“That would be the student’s prerogoative because of our First Amendment right of free speech,” Van Zandt said.
Some Jewish Democrats asked if the prayers would create divisiveness among students of different religions and might give students with extreme views an opportunity to bloviate about them to a captive audience.
“There is divisiveness in opinions among our students regarding almost any aspect of any message,” Van Zandt said.