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Prayer Bill Looks Tame For Now


A new "prayer bill" is trying to win converts in the Florida Legislature, but it's worded so foggily that it doesn't do much more than play legal peekaboo with the American Civil Liberties Union. The bill carefully avoids mentioning Christianity or any other religion. It doesn't require anything of anybody. It doesn't even use the word prayer.

What it talks about instead are "inspirational messages."

"A district school board," the bill says, "may adopt a policy allowing an inspirational message to be delivered by students at a student assembly." Students will decide whether such a message will be delivered, who will deliver it and what it will say. Teachers need not apply. School district personnel, the bill says, won't be involved in planning or delivering the inspirational message. They won't even be allowed to "monitor or otherwise review" the content of the message.

The phrase "inspirational message" sounds safe and non-controversial. But don't be fooled. This is all about school prayer. "Ever since I was elected in '01," bill co-sponsor Sen.

Greg Evers, R-Baker, said last week, "a prayer bill has been one of the top priorities of mine."

Even so, civil libertarians and school officials are greeting this particular prayer bill with yawns.

Benjamin Stevenson, an attorney for the ACLU, said school boards already can let students offer inspirational messages. "It's unclear why Florida legislators believe this law is going to do anything," he said.

Tim Wyrosdick, superintendent of schools in Florida's Santa Rosa County, where a long, divisive fight over religion in schools ended just last year, echoed the lawyer's sentiment. "That bill," he said, "will not add anything to the privileges at Santa Rosa County or take anything away."

So far, so good. But we wonder if school administrators will be as nonchalant when a student somewhere wants his "inspirational message" to be a Muslim prayer, a Wiccan chant or an ode to atheism. Will school officials feel compelled to step in? Will new lawsuits be filed?

Whenever government pokes its nose into matters of personal faith, there are unintended consequences.




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