Make us your home page
Instagram

Today’s top headlines delivered to you daily.

(View our Privacy Policy)

School prayer restrictions provoke new legislation in Florida

TALLAHASSEE — After hours of sweat-stained athletic camaraderie, Pace High School coach Mickey Lindsey must walk away from his players the moment they begin to pray.

"I believe in a family atmosphere, and for me to have to walk away from my kids when they want to lead a prayer, this is me turning my back on them," he said. "That is not family."

The controversial religious ban enforced by the Santa Rosa County School District last year has incited national debate over religious freedom and constitutional protections.

Now, the battle has come to the Florida Legislature, where the House PreK-12 Policy Committee approved a measure Wednesday that would allow teachers to pray with public school students.

Citing the conflict in Santa Rosa County, lawmakers said students should be allowed to pray at school. The proposed law would prohibit school boards from discouraging "inspirational" messages at voluntary events and would protect teachers who bow their heads during student-led prayers.

Critics and supporters alike say the bill is about constitutional freedoms.

"This is not necessarily a prayer bill," said Rep. Greg Evers, R-Baker, a co-sponsor of the legislation. "This is a rights bill."

But opponents argue that government has no business institutionalizing religious speech.

"This is not about protecting free speech," said Courtenay Strickland, a lobbyist for the Florida American Civil Liberties Union. "It is about trampling on the free exercise of religion."

In a last-ditch effort to appease critics, the House committee stripped the words "prayer" and "invocation" from the bill Wednesday just before approving it in a 10-3 vote.

But that did little to quell complaints that the bill creates the potential that students who are of a minority will be marginalized.

Rep. Kevin Rader, D-Delray Beach, recalled growing up Jewish among Christian teammates who prayed at wrestling matches. "There was peer pressure for to me to be there and listen to them," he said.

Minorities attending school football games and dances shouldn't be forced to experience that discomfort, he said.

Rep. Kelli Stargel, R-Lakeland, argued the proposed law does not promote religious indoctrination.

"If I don't agree with a prayer that someone is saying, I sit there and think of something different," she said. "You are not forced to believe something just because you heard it."

Religious speech and public schools are a polemic combination that has long drawn legal debate. In Florida, lawmakers introduced school prayer bills in the past with no success.

But the Santa Rosa County incident drew flak from Christian groups that complained of religious intolerance and roused new support for the measure.

Rep. Erik Fresen, R-Miami, said the measure is inclusive, letting students, not administrators, decide how and where the speech is expressed. "Students will figure it out," he said.

But Rep. Dwight Bullard, D-Miami, said the proposed law could create new disciplinary problems if students use it to promote hateful or discriminatory speech.

"You are now allowing immature individuals to possibly say something that is outlandish," he said.

Cristina Silva can be reached at (850) 224-7263 or csilva@sptimes.com.

School prayer restrictions provoke new legislation in Florida 03/17/10 [Last modified: Wednesday, March 17, 2010 11:27pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times

    

Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

Loading...
  1. Shakeup on Adam Putnam campaign

    Blogs

    In a sign of unsteadiness for what  had  looked like a strong-out-of-the-gate Adam Putnam campaign, the Republican frontrunner suddenly fired his campaign manager and political director. Hard-charging Campaign manager Kristin Davis and political director Jared Small were two of the three outsiders to join …

    Putnam campaigning in Destin the other day as part of his 22-city bus tour
  2. Rays let early lead get away again in loss to Angels (w/video)

    The Heater

    ST. PETERSBURG — As pleased as the Rays were to win consecutive series against the contending Red Sox, Indians and Yankees and to get briefly back over .500, there was a lot of talk in the clubhouse before Monday's game against the Angels that it was time to do better.

    Tampa Bay Rays third base coach Charlie Montoyo (25) high fives designated hitter Corey Dickerson (10) as he rounds third on his lead off home run in the first inning of the game between the Tampa Bay Rays and the Los Angeles Angels at Tropicana Field in St. Petersburg, Fla. on Monday, May 22, 2017.
  3. Tampa man arrested for killing man in his USF-area home

    Crime

    TAMPA — A Tampa man was arrested Monday in the death of man found killed at a home in the University of South Florida area last week, according to the Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office.

    Kadeem Dareem Archibald, 26, was arrested Monday on a  second degree murder charge in the University Area killing of Khando Kerr. [Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office]
  4. Report: Trump asked intel chiefs to push back against FBI collusion probe after Comey revealed its existence

    National

    President Donald Trump asked two of the nation's top intelligence officials in March to help him push back against an FBI investigation into possible coordination between his campaign and the Russian government, the Washington Post reports, citing current and former officials.

    From  left, CIA Director Mike Pompeo; Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats; and National Security Agency Director Adm. Michael Rogers take their seats on Capitol Hill on May 11 before  testifying before the Senate Intelligence Committee hearing on major threats facing the U.S. [Associated Press]
  5. For Gov. Rick Scott, 'fighting' could mean vetoing entire state budget

    State Roundup

    Every day, Gov. Rick Scott is getting a lot of advice.

    The last time a Florida governor vetoed the education portion of the state budget was in 1983. Gov. Bob Graham blasted fellow Democrats for their “willing acceptance of mediocrity.”