Shortly after lawmakers completed their special session, Florida Gov. Rick Scott announced he had signed 16 bills into law. One of those was among Senate President Joe Negron's session priorities, SB 436 on religious expression in public schools.
The new law, which takes effect July 1, makes clear that students in Florida's public schools cannot be punished for including religious materials in their course work, and that they may pray at school during non-course time. It further states that school employees also may participate voluntarily in religious activities that are initiated by students before or after the school day.
Complaints that some schools in north Florida did not allow such participation have prompted lawmakers to push for such provisions over several years. Representatives from many Christian organizations lobbied for the bill in committees, saying they were being discriminated against in schools.
The bill received its share of criticism, as well, from groups that worried it could create peer pressure in schools and open the door for non-mainstream religious including Satanism to be presented in the schools. Concerns about whether science lessons might be undercut by students' expression of religious beliefs also emerged during the debate.
Bill sponsor Sen. Dennis Baxley, R-Ocala, cheered the governor's signature.
"Students should not have to surrender their constitutional rights or their religious beliefs at the school house door," Baxley said in a press release. "Neither should teachers, administrators or parents."