A school prayer bill was today expanded to include elementary school students during one of its final readings on the state Senate floor.

The bill, which would allow students to pray during school events, moved quickly through the committee process and is up for a final vote.

The amendment, which was introduced by the bill’s sponsor, state Sen. Gary Siplin, D-Orlando, changed many aspects of the bill, expanding the original measure to cover 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.

It also stipulates that school officials may not:

  • Participate in, or otherwise influence, the determination of whether an inspirational message is to be delivered or select the student volunteers who will deliver the inspirational message.
  • Monitor or otherwise review the content of a student volunteer’s inspirational message.

Before the bill was expanded to include elementary and middle school students, advocates for the separation of church and state had been denouncing the bill. They have spoken out against aspects of the bill that include prayers of invocation or benediction that are sectarian or proselytizing in nature. The Anti-Defamation League has called the bill “divisive and constitutionally defective” and has warned legislators that such a law would inevitably lead to costly legal action against the state.

Democratic state Sens. Arthenia Joyner and Maria Sachs both took issue today with the fact that the amendment was added on the floor and not vetted by the committees it passed through. Joyner told Siplin that his “amendment drastically changes the bill.”

Siplin maintained that the bill is constitutional and that his aim was to make “more well-rounded students” by allowing them to give whatever kind of inspirational message they want without the input of officials in their schools. He said many times that he is a lawyer and that his bill does not violate federal laws.

State Sen. Nan Rich, D-Sunrise, pointed out that the bill does not include a prohibition on proselytizing, a concern that the Anti-Defamation League has raised since the measure began making its way through committees.

The bill still requires a final vote in the Senate.

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