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Op-Ed

School Prayer Bill Threatens Religious Freedom

David Barkey
ADL Religious Freedom Counsel

This article originally appeared in South Florida Sun-Sentinel on February 9, 2012

Despite all the problems facing our state, the Florida Legislature has made passing a religiously divisive and coercive school prayer bill a priority. Last week, in a last minute change, the Senate enacted a school prayer bill that is even worse for children's religious freedom than the version vetted through committees and bills filed in prior years. And the bill looks like it's headed for the House floor and the governor's office.

To make the bill appear more innocuous, the Senate deleted its specific references to prayer — only speaking in terms of "inspirational messages." But make no mistake, this bill authorizes sectarian or proselytizing prayers — for instance, to Allah, Buddha, HaShem, or Jesus — at mandatory or non-mandatory K-12 public school student assemblies. This means that public-school children as young as five could be required to observe prayers or other religious messages that are contrary to their religious upbringing or faith.

Undoubtedly, the first school district that adopts the policy authorized in the school prayer bill is going to be subject to a lawsuit costly to local taxpayers. And this legislation is completely unnecessary. Our public schools are not devoid of religion. Kids can privately pray alone or in groups during non-curricular time, and under federal law, secondary school students can create and participate in lunchtime, Bible or religious clubs. What this bill is really about is organized prayer in the public schools that imposes the majority faith on others.

In America, the question of one's religion or faith is deeply personal and private. It should not be decided by the government or other people. There are other education-related bills, like expansion of cyberbullying protections, that the Legislature should focus upon.

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Kids can privately pray alone or in groups during non-curricular time, and under federal law, secondary school students can create and participate in lunchtime, Bible or religious clubs. What this bill is really about is organized prayer in the public schools that imposes the majority faith on others.

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