Florida students will soon be allowed to deliver "inspirational messages," which include everything from prayers to manifestos, at mandatory school events.
The Florida House of Representatives just approved SB 98, which permits Florida school districts to allow students to read inspirational messages of their choosing at assemblies and sporting events.
The House approval was overwhelming, with 88 yeas and only 27 nays. It already passed in the Florida Senate on February 1 with 33 yeas and 8 nays.
In order to maintain separation of church and state, the bill holds that school officials are barred from monitoring, approving, or participating in such messages.
Florida currently permits the secular and objective study of the Bible and religion. Students are also given 2 minutes at the start of each school day for silent prayer or meditation.
House sponsor Rep. Charles Van Zant, R-Keystone Height and Senate sponsor Gary Siplin, D-Orlando maintain that the bill protects the freedom of speech of students ranging from kindergartners to high school seniors.
Critics, however, are concerned that the bill is unconstitutional, could promote bullying, and permit hateful speech.
At Wednesday's House reading, Rep. Jeff Clemens, D-Lake Worth, asked if a student could start an assembly with "We believe Satanism to represent the reawakening of pagan spirituality, which with the foundation of National Socialism, will usher in the new Aeon."
Van Zandt's answer, reports the Palm Beach Post: "That would be the student's prerogative, because of our First Amendment right of free speech."
Democrats attempted to amend the bill to mediate what they believe would be otherwise volatile open forum.
Rep. Martin Kiar, D-Parkland sponsored amendments that prohibited students from delivering any message that “could or would endanger the health and safety of children," "distorts well-established historical facts," or expresses "anti-American sentiments that are intended to disparage, either directly or indirectly, the United States of America.”
All three of Kiar's amendments were withdrawn.
Rep. Michelle Rehwinkel Vasilinda, D-Tallahassee, sponsored an amendment that would require any school district allowing inspirational messages to also offer 30 hours of education on antibullying, ethics, comparative religion, religious freedom, and conflict resolution.
Rehwinkel Vasilind's amendment failed Wednesday on the House floor.
If Gov. Rick Scott signs off on the bill, SB 98 goes into effect on July 12.
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