April 2021 Church & State Magazine | People & Events

A state legislator in Florida has introduced legislation that would allow students in public schools to make any kind of statement, including reciting prayers, over a loudspeaker before football games.

The bill, sponsored by state Rep. Webster Barnaby (R-Volusia County), is in response to an ongoing court battle over prayers before football games that feature public and private schools.

In 2015, two Christian schools wanted to allow pregame prayers over a loudspeaker. The Florida High School Athletics Association (FHSAA), which oversees the games, denied the request, arguing that it would impose religion on the unwilling.

Maggie Garrett, vice president of public policy for Americans United, told the Daytona Beach News-Journal that the bill is designed to get around court rulings striking down coercive forms of school prayer.

“It would compromise the FHSAA, a state actor, by requiring it to broadcast prayers,” Garrett said. “Everyone who attends the championship game would have to participate in a prayer. This is about using the power of government to compel people to pray. People shouldn’t be made to feel like outsiders. They shouldn’t be forced into engaging in religious activity just because they decided to attend the game.”

Michael Allan Wolf, a professor of law at the University of Florida, told the newspaper that the measure could have unintended consequences. Because it allows students to use the microphone to say anything, it could lead to political commentary or other off-topic speeches.

A companion bill is pending in the Florida Senate.

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