School prayer bill's future seems doubtful
A proposal to allow prayer and other "inspirational messages" at school events, including student assemblies and sporting events, might be over before it started, after sponsor Sen. Ronda Storms, R-Valrico, postponed the proposal's first Senate committee consideration and later told reporters there is likely not enough time to get it to the floor.
SB1360 gives school districts authority to allow the delivery of an "inspirational message," including prayer or invocation, at noncompulsory high school events as long as a majority of students participating request the message and select a student to deliver it.
The Anti-Defamation League is blasting the legislation, dubbing it not just unconstitutional but divisive.
The Senate staff analysis warns that districts might have to add provisions to any message policy to avoid constitutional challenge over what could be interpreted as state-sponsored religious speech. The U.S. Supreme Court invalidated a Texas school board's policy permitting delivery of a "statement or invocation" subject to school officials' approval at high school football games, for example. The Court found that because the policy encouraged one particular kind of message, and because officials had the power to review the speech content, it did not pass constitutional muster.
Then again, the Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals in another case upheld a state statute allowing for student-initiated religious speech at school-related events.
The companion House bill, HB 522, has not yet been heard in committee.