In a letter to state legislators, the co-presidents of the Freedom From Religion Foundation warn policy-makers that a new school prayer bill is “patently unconstitutional.”
The Foundation is a national nonprofit educational organization whose mission is to “protect the constitutional principle of separation between state and church,” the group explains in its letter.
Last week, a state education committee amended Senate Bill 98. The bill would “authorize district school boards to adopt resolutions that allow prayers of invocation or benediction at secondary school events.” 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 Anti-Defamation League immediately spoke out against the bill, and now another group has expressed concern.
The Foundation warns state Sens. Gary Siplin, Anitere Flores and Arthenia Joyner that “the United States Constitution is clear and the Supreme Court has made it abundantly clear-prayer is not permitted in public schools.”
“Public school events must be secular to protect the freedom of conscience of all students,” the group writes. “It is settled law that public school cannot allow a student to deliver a prayer before any school-sponsored event. Senate Bill 98 is patently unconstitutional.”
The group also writes:
The Florida Legislature cannot afford to waste time and money on unconstitutional and entirely unnecessary legislation. This recklessness reaches astounding heights when the immediate future is considered. Should the bill pass, school districts will use its provisions to authorize prayer. Lawsuits will inevitably follow and the schools will lose hundreds of thousands of dollars in legal fees. Despite their attempt to pawn it off on student governments and school districts, the responsibility for this loss will rest with the Florida Legislature.
Last session, the Legislature sought to expand the role of religion in the state in other ways, approving a ballot initiative that would remove a ban on taxpayer funding for religious groups. Amendment 7 is set to appear on the 2012 ballot. Educators, religious leaders and civil liberties advocates filed a challenge to the amendment this past July.
You can read the Freedom From Religion Foundation letter in its entirety