TALLAHASSEE (CBSMiami/NSF) – A House bill which would allow ‘inspirational messages’ in public schools has cleared its last major hurdle and is headed for a for a final vote.
On Wednesday the House Judiciary Committee approved SB 98 and sent it to the House floor. If it passes there without being amended, the measure would head to Gov. Rick Scott for his signature.
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 needed to protect students from the war against religious liberty and free speech,” according to John Stemberger, president of the Florida Family Policy Council.
But opponents say the measure is little more than loophole that would allow religious messages or prayers to be said in school or at school events.
“The reality is, it’s nothing more than a euphemism for prayer,” said Rep. Richard Steinberg, D-Miami Beach. “It’s because we can’t say ‘prayer’ in a bill, because we know that the courts will strike it immediately.”
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 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.
The News Service of Florida contributed to this report.