School Prayer in Florida: Is It Back?

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?

Copyright © 2011. The Sensuous Curmudgeon. All rights reserved.

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11 responses to “School Prayer in Florida: Is It Back?

  1. SC asked:

    Can creationism in science class be far behind?

    To which I would highlight this bit:

    assign readings from the Bible to students when relevant to nonreligious academic assignments

    In other words, no, it’s not far behind at all.

  2. We have a similar situation in Indiana, where the legislature has enacted a law authorizing educational vouchers that can be used in private schools, including those with a religious affiliation. I used to be a fan of Gov. Mitch Daniels, but no more since he signed this law, which took effect yesterday (July 1). Legal action was filed in court yesterday seeking an injunction, challenging the constitutionality of the law.

    I wonder if our good Christian legislators considered the possibility that there may be some students who will choose to use their vouchers to pay for their education in an Islamist madrasas?

  3. “The settlement awaits approval by the school board and court.”
    Has this been approved by the court yet? If not, do we know when the court will rule?

    “…use their vouchers to pay for their education in an Islamist madrasas?”
    I think they will welcome ANY religion, rather than no religion, even if it would encompass Islam, Hindu or any other religion.

  4. Jim says, “I think they will welcome ANY religion, rather than no religion, even if it would encompass Islam, Hindu or any other religion.”

    I don’t think so. I’d bet that ~95% of Hoosiers would object to having their taxes support a radical Islamist agenda. I don’t think the legislators would argue with them.

    I can’t imagine this law will get past the courts, but who knows?

  5. comradebillyboy

    I was in 9th grade in Tallahassee Fla back in 1961-1962. We had mandatory teacher led prayer first thing every morning straight out of King James. I recall the school Christmas assembly where our principal told us that we should all thank God that we weren’t born black as the ace of spades…his exact words. Of course everything in Fla was segregated back then, even the Florida State football team. Since Florida was the only place I lived where we had mandatory protestant type prayers, I have always associated segregation with Christianity.

  6. I am so thankful for Liberty Counsel! America is blessed to have a organization in its corner dedicated to protecting religious freedom, the sanctity of life, and the family.

  7. what is the big deal? if someone wants to pray they have that right, in school or out!! you can’t take that away from someone.

  8. Anyone who believes that there’s no prayer in schools has never seen students before a math exam.

    Tina, the Supreme Court has ruled consistently that students do NOT have constitutional rights in school. None. Random searches, drug tests, whatever, they’re considered minors with the school in loco parentis. A student can’t stand up during class and say, “This is %$#&ing boring, I’m outta here,” regardless of whether or not that’s true (it usually is). To that end, school prayer is totally inappropriate- as long as schools are publicly funded.

    End public education (a smashingly good idea) and parents can freely pick prayer or no prayer schools.

  9. skinner city cyclist

    Yes, let’s applaud the far-sighted legislation in Florida. If only it were like that in Oregon, I could slap my copy of The God Delusion on my desk and assign it as reading. During science class I would bring out Genesis to ridicule, and show the kids how pre-rational the biblical account is. In the teachers’ lounge on my breaks, I will chant simple little liturgies to the Flying Spaghetti Monster. Thank you, Christian godbots!

  10. skinner city cyclist

    Oh, and SY: kids do have constitutional rights in school (see the well-known “Lopez” decision). They are circumscribed and not as complete as they would have outside of school, but they do have constitutional rights tha schools are obliged to respect.

  11. Lopez had more to do with federalism than student rights. Lopez was a student… but that’s where the connection to students’ constitutional rights begins and ends. See Morse v. Frederick (students’ free speech rights may be curtailed by school authorities), Board v. Earls (students may be drug tested with no probable cause), and Safford USD v. Redding (students may be strip searched without probable cause) to see how little Bill of Rights protection public school students have. There are currently cases involving curtailing free speech rights OUTSIDE of school as well. At some point, one or more of those cases will hit the Supremes- or the Supremes may just let lower court rulings in favor of government school authorities stand.