The Florida Senate today passed a bill that allows students in public schools to pray during any school event.

The measure is the second incarnation of a bill that was already being denounced by advocates for the separation of church and state. Prior to its introduction on the floor, state Sen. Gary Siplin, D-Orlando, amended his bill to expand coverage to elementary school students. Originally, the school prayer bill only allowed high school students to give religious or non-religious “inspirational messages” during school events. Siplin’s amendment also removed language that said the message could only be given at events that were non-compulsory.

Only a handful of Democratic legislators voted against the bill. Most warned that the bill was unconstitutional and would ostracize students with minority beliefs.

State Sen. Nan Rich, D-Sunrise, said that argument struck a particular chord with her. ”As a religious minority,” she said, “I remember what it’s like to be different.” She argued that this sort of legislation could lead to situations in which students are made to feel different.

GOP state senators countered by saying it is a way of protecting student expression. State Sen. Joe Negron, said that we, as a country, have gone to extremes against religion.

“We have gone from neutrality to religion, to hostility toward religion,” Negron said. “This bill doesn’t even talk about prayer. It’s about religious expression.”

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