School Prayer at Public Events Likely to Become Fla. Law

A bill that would allow "inspirational messages" at public school events in Florida only needs Gov. Rick Scott's signature before it can become a law, but opponents worry that there will not be enough control over what students can say.

Current state law already allows for two minutes of silent prayer or meditation at the beginning of the school day, but S.B. 98 would allow students to give short speeches, including prayers, at convocations and noncompulsory school events.

The bill also stipulates that these inspirational messages must be "nonsectarian and nonproselytizing in nature."

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"The purpose of education is to inspire, not just to get a job, but to inspire our children to virtue, to wisdom, to reach beyond what they believe are capable themselves," said Rep. Michael Bileca in support of the bill.

Opponents of the bill, however, fear that there might not be enough control over what students can say during these messages.

"These students can say anything they want," according to Rep. Marty Kiar. "They can distort well established historical facts. For example, you can have a child that has a misguided view of the world who could preach that the Holocaust never occurred, who could preach anti-civil rights language to a bunch of students and they'll be doing this when a teacher cannot monitor them because in the bill it says they cannot be monitored."

In order to maintain the separation of church and state, the prayer bill states that these speeches must be given without any influence from school officials and only at the discretion of student government.

Kiar introduced three amendments that would have stopped students from giving messages that "could or would endanger children," distort well-established historical facts," or express "anti-American sentiments." All three amendments were withdrawn.

All signs indicate that Scott will sign the bill shortly, allowing the law to take effect on July 1, 2012.

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