Anti-Defamation League speaks out against school prayer bill in Florida
The Anti-Defamation League expressed disappointment with yesterday’s vote by the Florida Senate Pre K-12 Education Committee “in favor of an amended version of a divisive and constitutionally defective statewide school prayer bill.” According to a summary of the bill, it would “authorize district school boards to adopt resolutions that allow prayers of invocation or benediction at secondary school events.” The Anti-Defamation League, a group that fights anti-Semitism in public policy, says the amended bill voted for yesterday is actually more problematic than the original.
According to the group’s press release:
“[The bill] blatantly authorizes sectarian and proselytizing prayers – such as prayers to Allah, Adanoi, Buddha, or Jesus at all kinds of public secondary school events,” said David Barkey, ADL’s Religious Freedom Counsel. “We are even more concerned that the bill will be used to impose majority religious beliefs on minority faiths in Florida’s public schools. And, in these difficult budgetary times, one thing we can be certain of is that this divisive and unnecessary legislation, if enacted, will cost the state, local school districts, and the taxpayer needless litigation expenses,” said Barkey.
In its testimony today at the Pre-K-12 Education Committee hearing, ADL affirmed the right of public high school students to engage in voluntary religious expression at school through private prayer in groups or alone during non-curricular time, at lunchtime and non-curricular time student religious clubs, or at after school religious clubs. ADL, however, opposed the measure because it will result in state sponsored religious endorsement or coercion, it will be divisive and harmful to students’ religious freedom rights, and due to its patent unconstitutionality, it will result in costly litigation expenses to the state, local school districts and the Florida taxpayer.
“Regrettably, some Senators continue to misunderstand the critical differences – both legal and policy-wise – between voluntary, private student prayer during non-curricular time, and state authorized and sponsored prayer at secondary school events like graduation, football games or prom,” said Barkey.
The committee voted in favor of removing lines from the original bill that said “all prayers of invocation or benediction will be nonsectarian and nonproselytizing in nature.”
The bill was introduced by state Sen. Gary Siplin, D-Orlando. Sen. Stephen Wise, R-Jacksonville, introduced the controversial new amendment.