Florida Lawmakers Debate Prayer in Schools

Should public school students be allowed to hold religious benedictions at school functions? Tuesday, tensions over the controversial issue came to a head in Tallahassee.

School prayer has long been outlawed by the U.S. Supreme Court. It's in direct violation of the separation between church and state, but here at the capitol you wouldn't know it.

Tuesday the Senate Education Ccommittee heard a heated debate over a bill by Orlando democrat Gary Siplin that would allow student-led benedictions and invocations. They could only be held at voluntary events, like graduations and athletic matches.

And, this is key...school officials would be barred from taking part.

Siplin says without school involvement, the religious observances would be completely legal, but David Barkey with the Anti-Defamation League couldn't disagree more.

“The school is saying to the students, 'this is what you can say',” said Barkey. “Obviously, they're going to have to police what's being said. If they're policing what's being said, they're controlling the message. Therefore, it's school sponsored. There's no way of getting away from that.”

In light of the controversy, the committee chairman put the bill on hold. That doesn't mean it's dead, but its chances of passing may well have been weakened.

The legislation was sparked by the case of a panhandle school district that had been allowing student-led prayer. The district was sued and ultimately settled out of court.

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