Florida Legislature: Creationism & Theocracy Too

The Florida legislature appears to be one big lunatic asylum. We’ve been reporting about the creationism bill sponsored by Stephen Wise (see Hidden Depths of Stupid), and the anti-uterus fervor that was recently displayed: Florida Creationism: April Fool’s Day or Poe’s Law? Now they’re legislating about jamming straight, undiluted religion into the government schools.

Except for the recent uterine hostility, these things have happened before. Florida had a massive outbreak of creationist legislation back in 2008, and then they turned their attention to religious license plates (see Ronda Storms, Ronda Storms). In 2009, Rapturous Ronda attempted to ram her religion directly into the schools (see Florida’s Ronda Storms Wants Prayer in School). When that failed, a similar bill was introduced that year by Rep. Brad Drake: School Prayer in Florida: It’s Back!

In today’s Bradenton Herald of Bradenton, Florida we read Florida school prayer gets discussed, then postponed at Legislature. That paper doesn’t like people posting their precious content, so we’ll just tell you what they report.

It seems that state Senator Gary Siplin, a convicted felon and an ally of Ronda Storms, has introduced yet another school prayer bill in the legislature. Here’s a link to his page at the legislature’s website.

We wrote about Siplin and one of his recent bills here: Florida Creationism, Droopy Drawers, & Bestiality. Now this brilliant legislator has introduced SB 700 into the Florida Senate. If passed, it authorizes district school boards to adopt resolutions that allow prayers of invocation or benediction at secondary school events

The bill is sitting in an education committee of which creationist Stephen Wise is chairman. Unsurprisingly, Wise supports Siplin’s bill. But Wise decided to temporarily postpone things, after there was a lot of wrangling in his committee. It seems the ACLU is raising a fuss. Siplin kept claiming the prayers would be voluntary, student-led events, and school personnel wouldn’t be involved. But others questioned whether the prayers could be truly voluntary and nonsectarian, unless school officials were directly involved. So it’s going nowhere for the moment.

There’s a similar bill pending in the Florida House: HB 309, which was introduced by Charles E. Van Zant — yet another theocratic legislator. He’s an architect and also a preacher, with a Doctorate of Theology from — get this! — Western Baptist Theological Seminary in Havana.

Florida’s legislative session is scheduled to end on 06 May. That date can’t come soon enough! Watching those people at work is like watching a re-run of The Night of the Living Dead. They just keep coming!

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16 responses to “Florida Legislature: Creationism & Theocracy Too

  1. Gabriel Hanna

    Any district school board may adopt a resolution
    11 allowing the use of an inspirational message, including prayers
    12 of invocation or benediction, at secondary school commencement
    13 exercises or any other noncompulsory student assembly. The
    14 resolution must provide that:
    15 (1) The use of a prayer of invocation or benediction is at
    16 the discretion of the student government.
    17 (2) All prayers of invocation or benediction will be given
    18 by student volunteers.
    19 (3) All prayers of invocation or benediction will be
    20 nonsectarian and nonproselytizing in nature.
    21 (4) School personnel may not participate in or otherwise
    22 influence any student in the determination of whether to use
    23 prayers of invocation or benediction.

    Why it’ll be Iran in a week! If this is adopted where will it end? Benedictions at sessions of Congress or the Supreme Court?

  2. Gabriel Hanna says: “Why it’ll be Iran in a week!”

    It appears that you’ve been seduced by the Dark Side. I hope you and Ronda will find happiness together.

  3. What is an “inspirational message”, if not a form of proselytizing? Further, I think it is a rather weak argument to claim that such religious endorsements are okay since non-christian students have the option of simply not attending “non-compulsory” events like their graduation ceremony.

    I thought Florida had economic issues to deal with. The voters should take note that their elected representatives have nothing more urgent on their minds than institutionalizing their personal religious beliefs and ceremonies.

  4. Gabriel Hanna

    @SC:It appears that you’ve been seduced by the Dark Side.

    Nonsense; I believe, as I always have and as the Foudners did, in a secular government, not a secularizing one. Non-denominational prayer offered voluntarily at an optional event neither breaks my leg nor picks my pocket.

    @Ed:What is an “inspirational message”, if not a form of proselytizing?

    “Proselytizing” is recruiting for a specific religion. So it’s pretty easy to distinguish proselytization from non-denominational prayers and inspirational messages.

    At this point we’re away from separating church and state; we are in “right not to be offended” territory. That you have to hear someone else pray, when they were invited to speak and you weren’t, at an event you don’t have to attend, does not restrict your rights in any way.

  5. Gabriel Hanna

    And you could leave off the scare quotes on non-compulsory. Graduation ceremonies are not compulsory. Attending one or not attending one is not required and has no effect on whether you graduate.

    Students are banned from graduation ceremonies all the time, for different kinds of misconduct. At mine the guidance counseler lined us up and smelled our breaths; if any of us had been drinking we’d have been kicked out.

    than institutionalizing their personal religious beliefs and ceremonies.

    They aren’t, if the prayers are really non-denominational, and the Supreme Court has ruled so consistently. As Sandra Day O’ Connor said, “Given the values that the Establishment Clause was meant to serve, however, I believe that government can, in a discrete category of cases, acknowledge or refer to the divine without offending the Constitution. This category of “ceremonial deism” most clearly encompasses such things as the national motto (“In God We Trust”), religious references in traditional patriotic songs such as The Star-Spangled Banner, and the words with which the Marshal of this Court opens each of its sessions (“God save the United States and this honorable Court”). These references are not minor trespasses upon the Establishment Clause to which I turn a blind eye. Instead, their history, character, and context prevent them from being constitutional violations at all.”

  6. Gabriel Hanna says:

    Non-denominational prayer offered voluntarily at an optional event neither breaks my leg nor picks my pocket.

    I grew up on that stuff in school, and it wasn’t necessarily non-denominational. Yet I survived. In fact, I don’t recall that anyone ever gave it any thought at all. I wasn’t concerned when it was banned (I don’t even remember it). And I wouldn’t grab my rifle and run to the barricades to prevent that kind of thing from being re-introduced into the schools. However, I don’t see any burning necessity for re-introducing it into the schools. It’s just not a topic the state should be legislating about.

  7. A non-denominational prayer is still a prayer. It’s a formalized bit of irrationality at best, and at worst it’s an means of excluding those who do not share the faith of the believer. From an atheist’s point of view the prayer, message, or whatever is just a time-waster, but one still has to go through the ritual of standing, bowing one’s head, or whatever the situation calls for – else be identified as different and not belonging to the group. And the entire charade usually has nothing to do with the event at hand. It is aggravating to live in a free country and still be required to attend to the rituals of the local religion, if you want to participate in school events or other similar public functions.

    Also, non-denominational typically means not identifiably baptist or methodist – not a prayer that could be inclusive of Jews, Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists, or others. Part of this legislative effort is almost certainly aimed at reinforcing the social conservative position that this is a Christian country, and all others are not welcome.

  8. Have we learned nothing from the intelligent design movement? It’s a wedge to get prayer into school – the nature of which is chosen, of course, by the majority; minority rights be damned.

  9. Gabriel Hanna

    Prayers at graduation or ball games are NOT prayers “in school”, and they were routine up until 20 years ago and the Republic at no time became a theocracy.

    one still has to go through the ritual of standing, bowing one’s head, or whatever the situation calls for – else be identified as different and not belonging to the group. And the entire charade usually has nothing to do with the event at hand.

    This is elementary politeness when an adult is confronted by something he finds tiresome; it is not a violation of your civil rights.

    It is aggravating to live in a free country and still be required to attend to the rituals of the local religion, if you want to participate in school events or other similar public functions.

    Not only does the first half (required to..) contradict the second (if you want to participate), but you’re are not required to “attend to the rituals” of ANY religion. You are required, only by your sense of manners, not to be disruptive.

  10. Gabe, prayers are still routine today at numerous school related events and local government meetings etc. Where the organization is conscious of the fact that they have people of diverse beliefs in attendance, there will be moments of silence and the like. It’s pervasive in our culture and most of the time just fades into the background of social events.

    My beef is that when I go to a public meeting or a school event, I do not expect it to be a church service, and it shouldn’t be. It’s not an issue of whether or not it is legal, or what rights are violated. It’s about being included as part of community when one holds a minority religious point of view. A christian prayer before an event communicates “we are christians here, this is a gathering of christian people, and you are not one of us”. Most of the time it’s a brief moment and we just grin at each other try to look pious. Like you point out, politeness is required (not by those doing the religious statement, apparently). However, legislators who are elected to represent the public (all of their constituents) have no business trying to impose their personal religious views in any fashion through acts of legislature. That includes the view of religion vs. non-religion.

  11. Ed says:

    It’s not an issue of whether or not it is legal, or what rights are violated. It’s about being included as part of community when one holds a minority religious point of view.

    Surely you’ve been to a wedding or a funeral in a church which isn’t your own. You don’t have to go, but if you do you should sit there quietly out of courtesy. I’ve never been to an Indian rain dance in the West, but I suppose the tourists are far less respectful than you would be during a brief invocation at a football game. Speaking of disrespect, I’ve personally seen grinning Japanese tourists actually clicking photographs during a service at Westminster Abby.

    I’ll stick with my original position: This isn’t something the state should be legislating about. Also, of course, a school board shouldn’t have on its payroll an administrator of spiritual affairs; but they don’t have such positions. (They have all kinds of wacky sociological administrators, but that’s a different gripe.)

  12. SC: Of course I’ve been to many events where religion is involved that isn’t my own. Weddings, funerals, and even such mundane matters as when my in-laws give grace before a meal, I bow my head. Respect is the norm. My concern is when my government imposes such requirements for conformance to a foreign belief at public events – it is not when the requirement is one of respect for one’s friends, or courtesy for a society that is not one’s own.

    It seems we all agree that it is no business of government to legislate religious matters, even though we arrive at that conclusion via different paths.

  13. Gabriel Hanna

    My concern is when my government imposes such requirements for conformance to a foreign belief at public events

    The bill doesn’t impose any requirements on anything. It’s at the option of the students, not of the school officials, and it’s only for graduations and games and such. We go over this and over this, but you still don’t have a right to silence other peopel.

  14. Gabe: You’re correct that the bill doesn’t specifically require religious activites at school events, but it definitely encourages it. “The purpose of this act is to provide for the solemnization and memorialization of secondary school events and ceremonies…” The bill clearly communicates that the legislature desires school districts to include a religious message in school events, and provides a means of working around that pesky establishment clause.

    In this sense, it is no different than the “academic freedom” bills we discuss regularly. Those bills encourage a prohibited activity and provide what the authors hope is a means of working around the establishment clause.

    I don’t see this as a freedom of speech issue at all. No one’s freedom of speech was threatened before this bill, and it does not grant any new freedoms. It’s simply another example of social conservatives / theocrats using legislative power to chip away at the wall of separation between church and state.

  15. Ed says:

    I don’t see this as a freedom of speech issue at all. No one’s freedom of speech was threatened before this bill, and it does not grant any new freedoms. It’s simply another example of social conservatives / theocrats using legislative power to chip away at the wall of separation between church and state.

    Yes, but sometimes it’s difficult to know when one morphs into the other. At other times it’s flamingly obvious — as with the Discoveroids’ “academic freedom” bills. There have always been tiny cracks in the “wall of separation,” and we’ve managed to survive without ever coming close to seeing a national church established. That’ll never happen. But a school prayer here, a tweak to the pledge of allegiance there, and some limited expression of religion manages to seep through the wall. This is nothing new.

    You can’t fight everything as if it were a witch-burning, because although the motivations of those who promote such laws will — if unchecked — lead to that, it’s just not going to happen. My concern, mostly, is preserving decent science education, and freedom generally. The former is a serious concern, the latter isn’t yet keeping me awake at night.

  16. Gabriel Hanna

    @Ed:. No one’s freedom of speech was threatened before this bill, and it does not grant any new freedoms.

    http://www.aclu.org/religion-belief/west-va-school-district-ends-graduation-prayer-policy-students-lawsuit-educated-offi

    The settlement came in response to a lawsuit filed on May 29 by the ACLU and Americans United for Separation of Church and State (AU) on behalf of Tyler Deveny, a senior who objected to the planned prayer at his graduation ceremony from St. Albans High School. Deveny called the prayer “an exercise in ostracism.”

    The day after the lawsuit was filed, the ACLU and AU won a temporary restraining order blocking the school from allowing the prayer at the graduation ceremony.

    If you cannot, as a private citizen, say something without being sued, your freedom of speech is being curtailed. That is what this law in Florida is intended to prevent.