School prayer is one step closer to being legalized in Florida after a proposal was passed in a state Senate committee Wednesday despite strong opposition to the measure.
The bill, if signed into law, would allow school boards to adopt rules that allow “inspirational messages” at school events, according to reports.
The vague language leaves room for schools to allow prayers at events hosted at the school, including sporting games and graduations.
The measure passed Florida’s Senate Education committee with a 4 to 1 vote.
Sen. Ellyn Bogdanoff, who is Jewish, opposed the bill, after initially giving it her support, because it did not include language mandating that the message of the prayer should be nonsectarian, reported the Sun Sentinel.
"Not having that language in there gives me pause," Bogdanoff told the Sun Sentinel.
The bill, which was also proposed in 2009 and in 2010, allows students to initiate prayers at non-compulsory school events. Teachers and other school officials, however, would not be allowed to lead or participate in the prayers.
Supporters of the bill cite the power-of-prayer as a reason the measure is needed.
Sen. Larcenia Bullard told the Sun Sentinel that prayer was instrumental in her recent recovery from cancer.
"Don't make me cry," she said. "Prayer changes things."
Nonetheless, the bill faces serious opposition from civil rights groups.
"State-sponsored school prayer is unfair and inappropriate because our public schools are for people of all faiths," said Anti-Defamation League lobbyist David Barkey to the Sun Times.
The measure, if passed, could open the state up to lawsuits as groups question the constitutionality of the bill.
"We must guard against the promotion or endorsement of one particular set of religious beliefs over others," said Ron Bilbao, a representative for American Civil Liberties Union, to the News Service of Florida.
Sen. Gary Siplin, who sponsored the bill, remains hopeful.
"I think it will pass," said Siplin to the News Service of Florida. "The (House Speaker) appreciates prayer and the (Senate) President appreciates prayer."
The bill must pass votes in the Senate Judiciary Committee and Senate Rules Committee before being heard by the full state Senate. The House version of the bill remains unheard.
It is unclear when the various committees will make a ruling on the issue.