Florida School Prayer Bill Shelved After AU Clergy Protest

A bill in Florida that would have permitted public school districts to sponsor “non-compulsory” prayer at school events was put aside after Americans United’s clergy allies opposed it.

Florida State Sen. Ronda Storms (R-Valrico) introduced legislation that would have permitted schools to sponsor “an inspirational message, including a prayer or invocation, at a noncompulsory high school activity, including a student assembly, a sports event or other school-related activity, if a majority of the participating students request the delivery of an inspirational message and select a student representative to deliver the message.”

Storms is known for her activism on Religious Right issues. She has promoted the teaching of “intelligent design” in public schools and is known for her opposition to legal abortion and gay rights. She has even questioned the efficiency of the Dewey Decimal System in public libraries.

Concerned about the prayer proposal’s constitutional flaws, Americans United mobilized activists in the state. Three members of the clergy – the Rev. Harry Parrott, the Rev. Harold Brockus and Rabbi Merrill Shapiro – sent a letter to Rep. Nancy C. Detert (R-Venice), chair of the Committee on Education, asking her to oppose the measure.

“As ordained clergy members, we know that religious faith is tremendously important in the lives of so many Floridians, and we have seen the strength, solace, and sense of community that can be gained by an active religious commitment,” the three wrote. “We believe that the ability to worship as one sees fit is a fundamental right that must be protected.

“Allowing prayers in any school-sponsored context would make students who practice their faith differently from the majority or who adhere to minority faiths feel like outsiders,” the clergy continued. “Forcing prayer upon public-school students not only violates the rights of those students, it also demeans the spiritual significance of religious belief.”

The letter was sent on behalf of Americans United’s eight Florida chapters and its members throughout the state.

The committee was scheduled to deal with the Storms proposal on March 26 but did not do so. Americans United continues to monitor the situation to make certain the bill does not re-emerge.