Like a tree falling in a forest when no one is around, Florida’s new “inspirational message” law may not make much noise.
The measure, which went into effect July 1, allows school boards to adopt policies that “inspirational messages” – including prayer – at “noncompulsory” school events, including graduations and other assemblies. Students would deliver the prayers/messages, and school officials aren’t supposed to interfere or try to influence their content.
This law is a pretty poorly disguised attempt at injecting religion into schools. It doesn’t define what an “inspirational message” is, so it could include a sermon or other type of proselytizing, which would be delivered to a captive audience at an official school event.
No schools are forced to create “inspirational message” policies, and Americans United sent letters to all public school districts advising them to steer clear of this potential legal quagmire.
It seems school officials are listening.
“On our advice, [schools] are going nowhere with it,” Wayne Blanton, executive director of the Florida School Boards Association, said, according to a News Service of Florida (NSF) report.
Blanton told the NSF that only Clay County, which is near Jacksonville, even contemplated an “inspirational messages” policy, but ultimately scrapped the idea. This law is just “a political bill” that’s more about scoring votes than anything else, Blanton said.
Even Rep. Charles Van Zant (R-Keystone Heights), a sponsor of the measure, said he didn’t expect to see the law in action anytime soon.
“I don’t think they’re going to do much of anything simply because there’s so much electioneering going on,” Van Zant told NSF.
Americans United, ACLU of Florida and the Anti-Defamation League have said previously that they would consider suing any schools that approve coercive prayer.
Americans United Associate Legal Director Alex J. Luchenitser reiterated that possibility last week in an interview with the Associated Press. He also noted that even though the law leaves out the word “prayer,” it still opens the door for government-sponsored invocations.
Despite those very real threats, Van Zant doesn’t see much reason to worry. The NSF reported that the lawmaker told schools not to fear if the ACLU or others sue. Since any litigation would come at taxpayer expense, perhaps Van Zant should be a bit more careful with his words.
Schools have wisely ignored Van Zant so far, and they would be smart to stay on that course. When public schools promote prayer or other religious activities, they get in the middle of the parent-child relationship and usurp parental rights.
How will parents know that a prayer or “inspirational message” being delivered at a football game is in line with what they’re teaching their kids at home? And how will parents react when a student delivers a prayer in the name of Allah?
Students have been doing just fine for many years without “inspirational messages,” and they will continue to be far better off without them. Hopefully school boards will keep ignoring this legislation that creates far more problems than it solves.