Bill to Permit Prayer in Florida Schools Divides Opinion

Senate Bill 98 was only proposed last week but is already stirring heated debate on both sides. Florida State Senator Gary Siplin is behind the bill and believes it has a good chance of passing; critics, however, claim that the bill infringes on students' rights.

According to Senator Siplin's website, "Senate Bill 98 authorizes school boards to adopt resolutions allowing the use of inspirational messages, including prayers of invocation or benediction at secondary school commencement exercises or other school-related, non-compulsory student assemblies."

He added, "The majority of states already have laws enacted that permit prayer or silent meditation and in some instances, mandate prayer or silent meditation. I simply want to empower our school districts to allow students to exercise their rights of freedom of expression and freedom of religion in the school setting."

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Opponents to Bill 98 claim that it overlooks the rights of students who do not want to pray or be around peers who do so in school settings. The American Civil Liberties Union has published a letter saying, "The bill they are considering…would let school districts overrule the objections of religious minorities and organize school-sponsored prayer under the banner of student government. Under the bill, school officials would be able to skirt the Constitutional protections of religious liberty."

The First Amendment calls for the freedoms of speech and religion, putting them at odds in certain cases. Some schools argue that they are sponsored by the government and should remain separated from religious beliefs, while others are attempting to accommodate students who wish to express their beliefs.

In 1962, the Supreme Court ruled in a case about school-sanctioned prayer, "It is neither sacrilegious nor anti-religious to say that each separate government in this country should stay out of the business of writing or sanctioning official prayers and leave that purely religious function to the people themselves and to those the people choose to look to for religious guidance."

Siplin has made clear that Senate Bill 98 would only allow for students to determine when, and how, to pray, as well as to lead the prayers. "We do not want any influence from the principal, counselor, the dean, the coach or parents," he told reporters.

He has spoken with The Christian Post and said that the ACLU was "desperate because they know the bill will pass. The people of Florida want our children to be able to play. Lawyers have looked at the bill and it is Constitutional and will be on the floor next week."

The bill is gaining momentum throughout the state; Siplin told CP that Miami's Dade County School Board had just passed and written a letter of resolution and support for Senate Bill 98.

Siplin also told CP, "I wrote this bill because the State Senate opens its sessions with prayer. My constituents have asked for their children to be able to pray. We teach them to become fulfilled people, and prayer is a part of that."

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