States

Bill to Allow ‘Inspirational Messages’ Reaches Fla. Governor

By Sean Cavanagh — March 02, 2012 1 min read

A measure that would allow students to read “inspirational messages"—apparently including prayers—at student assemblies has cleared the legislature and been sent to the desk of Gov. Rick Scott.

And it would seem that opponents of the legislation are standing at the ready.

The legislation says that school districts can choose to allow student-led inspirational messages to be delivered at assemblies. It also says that students are to be given the sole right to determine whether a message is to be delivered, its content, and which student delivers it. District officials are barred from trying to shape the message or who reads it, the legislation says.

The measure is designed to “provide students with the opportunity for formal or ceremonious observance of an occasion or event,” the measure states.

The legislation cleared Florida’s House on Thursday. The state’s legislature is controlled by Republicans, though the bill attracted bipartisan support.

A spokesman for the governor, Lane Wright, told Education Week that Scott is studying the measure. (The Miami Herald, however, reported that Scott has told supporters he will sign it.)

Given the long history of legal challenges revolving around school prayer and religion’s place in public schools, you might be telling yourself that the measure sounds like a candidate for a lawsuit. The American Civil Liberties Union agrees with you.

The ACLU’s Florida chapter said in a statement that if school districts took legislators up on what the measure allows, it would “trigger a landslide of litigation.”

“It is distressing to see our legislature was misled by concocted claims of First Amendment rights to freedom of speech,” said Howard Simon, the executive director of the ACLU of Florida. “Freedom of speech does not include the right to have a captive audience listen to religious messages.”

A version of this news article first appeared in the State EdWatch blog.