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Gov. Chiles on School Prayer

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On May 31, Gov. Lawton Chiles of Florida rejected a wide-ranging education bill because of objections to its school-prayer provisions. The following are excerpts from his veto message:

The issue of school prayer has been very troubling to me for many years--first as a state legislator, then as a U.S senator, and now as governor. School prayer was an everyday occurrence for me as a student in public school. ... I had, and still have, feelings that it is something that we should be allowed to do.

It is my conclusion that the school-prayer provision in this legislation is not appropriate as a matter of public policy. I believe personally that a prayerful and spiritual life is richly rewarding. I commend it, and I recommend it. But endorsing such a life is for me to do as an individual. It is different for the state. ... What our founders knew is that the decision as to whether to pray, when to pray, and to whom to pray, is an intensely personal decision. It cannot be decided by majority vote.

Praying together is a devout act which is to be embraced, not an act to which one is to be subjected. One commentator wisely said that religion cannot be forced; it must be found. The very act of prayer may be trivialized by requiring it of the believers and nonbelievers alike, obliged to listen to rote recitations of pre-approved benedictions and invocations.

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