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Inspirational Messages Could Face Challenges

March 26th, 2012 by Mike Vasilinda

School children as young as six could deliver unsupervised inspirational messages under legislation signed by Governor Rick Scott. The policy is optional for the state’s sixty-seven school boards and, as Mike Vasilinda tells us, the boards are being warned they will be sued if they go forward.

State lawmakers pray before each session and now they think prayer should return to public schools.

Nowhere in the two page bill signed by the governor permitting inspirational messages is the word prayer used, but sponsors left no doubt prayer is what they intend.

“Before inspirational messages were removed from our schools, the number one problem was talking out of turn,” Rep. Charles Van Zant (R-Keystone Heights) said during debate. “Today, it is drug abuse.”

Sponsors believe a Jacksonville case allowing prayer at a voluntary graduation opens the door for the return of prayer to school events. But the American Civil Liberties Union and other organizations have written all 67 school boards letting them know litigation is inevitable if they adopt the message policy.

The official position of the Florida School Board Association: Don’t change a thing; why spend money on a lawsuit?

“It’s very simple: the policies they have now are working and they have not been litigated or challenged,” Wayne Blanton with the Florida School Boards Association said. “We feel that any changes made in those policies will be litigated.”

The legislation forbids teachers and school administrators from having any say in the messages. That alone, says Senate Sponsor Gary Siplin, should make the bill constitutional.

“The way it is now, it will meet constitutional muster because it doesn’t put any mandate on the school boards,” Sen. Gary Siplin (D-Orlando) said.

But finding out could be costly. Santa Rosa County has spent more than half a million in legal fees in a losing school prayer case.

During the debate on inspirational messages, lawmakers considered reimbursing school districts for any legal fees, but later dropped the provision, making local boards responsible for their legal costs.

Posted in Children, Education, Legislature, Religion, State News | 2 Comments »

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