Florida bill sanctions unlawful prayer

The Freedom from Religion Foundation has put the Florida Senate on notice that pending legislation to allow prayers at secondary school events is unconstitutional.

FFRF, a state/church watchdog based in Madison, Wis., is the nation's largest association of atheists and agnostics with more than 17,000 members, including over 800 in Florida.

Senate Bill 98 would authorize district school boards to adopt resolutions allowing prayers "at the discretion of the student government" at secondary school commencements or assemblies. An education committee voted in favor of removing line three of the bill, "All prayers of invocation or benediction will be nonsectarian and non-proselytizing in nature." The bill was approved by a state Senate committee, but needs to pass through a few more hurdles before it hits the Senate floor.

"The Constitution forbids prayers at school-sponsored events, including graduations. Even student-initiated prayer violates the Establishment Clause," wrote FFRF Co-President Annie Laurie Gaylor in a memo to state Sens. Gary Siplin, Antiere Flores and Arthenia Joyner.

FFRF called the bill fiscally irresponsible: "The Florida legislature will be wasting time and money on a bill that is unnecessary and unconstitutional. Should the bill pass, school districts will use its provisions to authorize prayer. Lawsuits would inevitably follow and the schools will lose hundreds of thousands of dollars in legal fees," wrote Gaylor. 

FFRF maintains that this is not about removing students' personal freedoms.

"The right to pray privately is not at risk," said Gaylor. "The Constitution does not prohibit students from praying privately, it prohibits the government from allowing students a pulpit to broadcast prayers…"

Giving the student body this option virtually guarantees the tyranny of the majority, as the remaining students become a group particularly vulnerable to peer pressure and bullying.

"The Florida Senate, given the economic challenges the state and our country face, has much better things to do than entertain this mischief-making bill. Its sole purpose is to encourage school boards and students to violate settled law and clear Supreme Court decisions expressly forbidding such religious activity," noted Gaylor. 

Freedom From Religion Foundation

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