Florida School Prayer Bill Stalls in Committee

A Florida bill that would have allowed school-led prayer has been postponed for now after civil liberties groups made clear that the legislation violated the First Amendment.

The bill, sponsored by Sen. Gary Siplin, D-Orlando, would allow the delivery of an “inspirational message,” including prayer, at “noncompulsory” middle and high school events. Student government would have to decide on giving such a message, which could only be delivered by students. School personnel would not be allowed to participate or influence the message.

“There is no participation from the school board, the principal, the coaches or anybody else,” Siplin said.

But the American Civil Liberties Union and the Anti-Defamation League said the measure could be interpreted as school-sponsored religious speech, which is unconstitutional.

“It’s going to cost the schools a lot in litigation,” said David Barkey, an attorney for the ADL.

Obvious church-state violations aside, this issue raises another point that has long vexed me. I’m from York County, Pennsylvania, with Pennsylvania Dutch roots and was raised a United Methodist. Where I’m from, public displays of fervent emotion, religious or otherwise, were strictly verboten. True believers didn’t show off their piousness for the rest of the world.

In my church, we were taught to follow the word of Matthew 6:6.

But thou, when thou prayest, enter into thy closet, and when thou hast shut thy door, pray to thy Father which is in secret; and thy Father which seeth in secret shall reward thee openly.

Prayer is not banned from public school. Students are free to pray all they want, as long as it’s not disruptive to other students. Heck, I used to utter a little silent prayer before every trigonometry test. “Please God, don’t let me fail this.” (Didn’t help.)

So why is officially sanctioned school prayer so important to some conservative Christians? Perhaps because it doesn’t count unless you’re lording your beliefs over someone else?