Schools could allow ‘inspirational messages’ under bill sent to Gov. Scottby John Kennedy | March 1st, 2012
After fierce debate, the House approved a measure Thursday allowing school boards to let students deliver “inspirational messages” in classrooms — a move critics say is aimed at promoting unconstitutional school prayer.
The measure (CS/SB 98) was already OK’d by the Senate and now goes to Gov. Rick Scott, who is expected to sign it into law. The House voted 88-27.
But the legislation divided lawmakers — with many Democrats warning it would subject students from minority religions to possible discrimination.
Rep. Lori Berman, D-Delray Beach, said she recalled growing up as one of eight Jewish children in an elementary school, where she was uncomfortable whenever religious matters were discussed. She said it was important for lawmakers to protect children and their constitutional rights.
“Our constitution protects us from state-sponsored prayer, and this bill is clearly unconstitutional,” Berman said.
But Rep. Charles Van Zant, R-Keystone Heights, recalled that “inspirational messages” were allowed in schools until the early 1960s. In those days, he said, the most common classroom problems were chewing gum and talking in class, compared to today’s issues of drugs, sex and violence.
“I believe…this will improve some of the problems we have in school,” Van Zant told the House.
The bill would allow school boards to adopt policies giving students authority to deliver “an inspirational message,” during the student portion of any assembly. Administrators, teachers, coaches and other school personnel would be prohibited from reviewing the message or editing it.
Florida law currently also allows students to have a brief period — no more than two minutes — at the start of each school day for silent prayer or meditation. Volunteer prayer groups also are authorized to meet at schools.
Rep. Irv Slosberg, D-Boca Raton, said any school board that sought to enact the policy would be ensnared in a lawsuit.
“The only message we’re going to be sending is ‘hello school boards, get out your checkbooks,’” Slosberg said.