There’s been a new development in an issue we thought was resolved long ago. Before discussing the news we’ll fill you in on the background.
Back in February of 2009 we posted Florida’s Ronda Storms Wants Prayer in School. That was about a bill filed in the Florida legislature by Senator Ronda Storms. Rapturous Ronda’s bill was an attempt to overturn a federal court’s decision rendered a month earlier that had struck down a school prayer arrangement. Here’s the court’s order: School Board for Santa Rosa County, Florida.
Ronda’s bill didn’t pass, but a similar measure was pre-filed in the Florida House for the next legislative session by Brad Drake, and we wrote about it here: School Prayer in Florida: It’s Back! We posted a March 2010 Update when Drake’s proposal had attracted a companion bill in the state Senate.
The last time we discussed the subject was in April of 2010: Ronda Storms & Prayer in Florida Schools. The bill was moving toward passage, but it had been amended to remove a specific reference to allowing school prayer. We didn’t see much point in the bill at that stage, so we stopped following it.
After checking our old links to prepare for today’s post, we see that Drake’s bill and its Senate companion passed both chambers and the measure was signed by the Governor on 04 June 2010. It’s now Florida Statutes 1003.4505, which we quote in its entirety:
Protection of school speech. — District school boards, administrative personnel, and instructional personnel are prohibited from taking affirmative action, including, but not limited to, the entry into any agreement, that infringes or waives the rights or freedoms afforded to instructional personnel, school staff, or students by the First Amendment to the United States Constitution, in the absence of the express written consent of any individual whose constitutional rights would be impacted by such infringement or waiver.
That seems innocuous, so why are we posting about it again? Good question. It’s because of an article we just found in the Florida Baptist Witness titled Religious freedom restored in Santa Rosa Schools. Here are some excerpts, with bold font added by us:
A two-year battle over a “Consent Decree” limiting religious freedom of students and teachers in Santa Rosa School District has been settled, Liberty Counsel [LC] announced July 1.
The dispute centers a 2009 Consent Decree entered into by the school district in concert with and under pressure of the American Civil Liberties Union. The decree resulted in criminal indictments against school officials and banned “God bless” and certain other actions by school district employees and students.
We didn’t know about all of that criminal stuff after the 2009 court decision, but apparently school officials in Santa Rosa County decided not to obey the court’s order. Let’s read on:
An amended Consent Decree will “restore dozens of constitutional religious freedoms that were previously denied,” and LC and CEAI will be awarded $265,000 in attorney’s fees and costs from an insurance provider, LC reported. The settlement awaits approval by the school board and court.
Nice fee! Is there anything interesting in the new Consent Decree? Oh, one or two things you may want to know about:
“As a result of this settlement, Liberty Counsel’s clients who are teachers will now be able to pray at school during their break times, pray during school events in a nonofficial capacity, attend and fully participate in baccalaureate services, have a Bible on their desk, wear religious jewelry, and assign readings from the Bible to students when relevant to nonreligious academic assignments,” the news release reports. The settlement will also permit various religious activities by students, according to LC.
Whoa! That’s an ark-load of religious activity for a public school system. One more excerpt:
“We are pleased that freedom has been restored to Santa Rosa County,” LC founder Mathew Staver said in the news release. “It is appropriate to celebrate these restored freedoms as America celebrates Independence Day. From the beginning we contended that this Consent Decree went too far and swallowed up the rights of teachers, staff, students and members of the community. The Constitution is not some relic that can be discarded at will.”
So there you are. Things are almost back the way they were in Santa Rosa County. Can creationism in science class be far behind?
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