ADL questions fast-tracking of divisive & unconstitutional school prayer bill
Date: January 19, 2012
The Anti-Defamation (ADL) has urged the Senate Committee on Rules to oppose a school prayer bill (CS-SB 98) which authorizes sectarian or proselytizing prayers – for instance to Allah, Buddha, HaShem, or Jesus – at secondary graduation ceremonies and other “noncompulsory student assembl[ies].” The legislation appears to be on a fast track as the Rules Committee is the last stop for this bill before going to the Senate floor. The Rules Committee is scheduled to hear CS-SB 98 on January 23rd at 1:00 pm. The Senate Education Pre-K-12 Committee voted in favor of the bill on November 2nd – over a month before the start of the 2012 legislative session. And the Judiciary Committee heard and voted in favor of the bill during the second week of the session.
David Barkey, ADL Religious Freedom Counsel, issued the following statement:
| “We’re only going into the third week of the 2012 session, but this divisive and unconstitutional school prayer legislation is on a fast track to the Senate floor. Why is this religiously divisive legislation, which if enacted will undoubtedly cost school districts and the Florida taxpayer unnecessary litigation expenses, taking priority? But legislation addressing the epidemic of cyberbullying in our public schools, which effects children across religious, racial and ethnic lines, has yet to be heard by its first committee (Education Pre-K-12)? As set forth in ADL’s letters to all the Committees voting on the school prayer bill, public secondary school students have the right to privately pray alone or in groups during non-curricular time, form and participate in lunchtime Bible or religious clubs, or participate in after-school religious clubs. So given that students already have the right to pray in school, why does this legislation have priority over measures that would safeguard our children from the dangers of cyberbullying?”
CS-SB 98 authorizes local public school districts to permit sectarian or proselytizing prayers of invocation or benediction or other inspirational messages at public school secondary school events such as graduation ceremonies, sports events, plays, concerts, assemblies, and dances. The question of whether a prayer occurs at a school event is left to the “discretion” of student government and student volunteers.
ADL sent a letter to the Rules Committee Chair urging opposition to CS-SB 98, accompanied by a legal analysis outlining the constitutional defects of the bill.
ADL in the News
Florida Independent: School prayer bill has one more stop in state Senate
Bradenton Herald editorial: School prayer bill on shaky constitutional ground
Florida Independent: School prayer bill on its way to the Senate floor