Florida Senate Bill 98 Would Allow Graduation Prayers at Public Schools February 3, 2012

Florida Senate Bill 98 Would Allow Graduation Prayers at Public Schools

In Florida, Senate Bill 98 would give school boards permission to allow “an inspirational message to be delivered by students at a student assembly.”

In other words, instead of banning such practices outright, this bill would allow a school to let students vote on whether or not a prayer could be delivered at a graduation. And since Christians are in the majority, sounds like an easy way to push your views on everyone else.

The bill passed through the Senate 31-8 on Wednesday.

Its approval came over the objections of senators who said the measure will lead to prayers at school events that students can’t get out of, including possibly in classes, and that some young students will have to listen to prayers or risk being ostracized because they come from a different religious tradition than most of their classmates.

“I implore you to protect minority students and not promote alienation,” said Sen. Eleanor Sobel, D-Hollywood. “We want our public school students to get along.”

But backers of the bill said the measure is needed to protect the religious freedom of students, some of whom now feel they aren’t allowed to offer prayers that the student body, or a large part of it can listen to – that they’re only allowed to pray to themselves or in small groups.

Wait… WHAT?! They’re offended because they can only “pray to themselves or in small groups”? They’re offending because they’re not being given a captive audience to hear their prattling?!

Meanwhile, atheists have to worry about coming out publicly with that label…

At least reader Zach and his friends found a clever way to respond on their campus:

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  • Ggsillars

    They never fucking learn!

  • Don’t you see, not allowing them to ignore the rights of non-believers, you are infringing on their rights to infringe on other peoples rights.  I can’t believe how oppressive you atheists are.  It’s just like that whole stupid law about not punching old ladies.  It’s totally infringing on my rights to punch old ladies.

    FSM and love

  • Brian Westley

    This bill shouldn’t have pasta’d.

  • Ray

    It is so weird that I, as a casually interested Canadian, seem to understand the US Constitution better than the representatives of the US population.

  • The Supreme Court already decided this is unconstitutional.

    “The potential for divisiveness is of particular relevance here though, because it centers around an overt religious exercise in a secondary school environment where, as we discuss below, see infra, at __, subtle coercive pressures exist and where the student had no real alternative which would have allowed her to avoid the fact or appearance of participation.”

    “The undeniable fact is that the school district’s supervision and control of a high school graduation ceremony places public pressure, as well as peer pressure, on attending students to stand as a group or, at least, maintain respectful silence during the Invocation and Benediction. This pressure, though subtle and indirect, can be as real as any overt compulsion. Of course, in our culture standing or remaining silent can signify adherence to a view or simple respect for the views of others. And no doubt some persons who have no desire to join a prayer have little objection to standing as a sign of respect for those who do. But for the dissenter of high school age, who has a reasonable perception that she is being forced by the State to pray in a manner her conscience will not allow, the injury is no less real. There can be no doubt that for many, if not most, of the students at the graduation, the act of standing or remaining silent was an expression of participation in the Rabbi’s prayer. That was the very point of the religious exercise. It is of little comfort to a dissenter, then, to be told that for her the act of standing or remaining in silence signifies mere respect, rather than participation. What matters is that, given our social conventions, a reasonable dissenter in this milieu could believe that the group exercise signified her own participation or approval of it.”

    from Lee v. Weiseman

  • Erik Cameron


  • Alex

    […] the measure is needed to protect the religious freedom of
    students, some of whom now feel they aren’t allowed to offer prayers
    that the student body, or a large part of it can listen to – that
    they’re only allowed to pray to themselves or in small groups.

    Jesus F. Christ, FL christians, I know this had already been talked about to death, but doesn’t your own holy book — in the new testament, no less — tells you exactly to pray in private? Read Matthew.Also, even if this bill passes, it is unconstitutional, and can (and probably will!) be challenged in court.

  • I love this quote from the news link posted in the article:

    In that way the bill is about freedom of expression – the right of students to be heard when they’re expressing a religious message, said Sen. Joe Negron, R-Stuart.

    There’s a big difference between speaking and being heard. Students already have the right to express a religious message, and the senator knows that. He thinks the right to speak freely isn’t enough, but that students should be given the right to subject others to that religious expression whether they like it or not.

  • I’m not sure why Christians — who, one would think, ought to follow the teachings of Jesus as he said them — could possibly object to having to pray in private. Jesus specified that all prayers are to be said in private:

    When you pray, you are not to be like the hypocrites; for they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and on the street corners so that they may be seen by men. Truly I say to you, they have their reward in full. But you, when you pray, go into your inner room, close your door and pray to your Father who is in secret, and your Father who sees what is done in secret will reward you. (Mt 6:5-6)

    I defy any Christian to explain to me how a prayer at a graduation — which is quite public — can possibly be anything other than an affront to Jesus, given what he personally taught (if the gospels are to be believed). I further defy any Christian to explain how praying publicly to a deity who explicitly forbid public prayers is anything other than hypocrisy — which is, itself, something their own Jesus likewise expressly forbid them to engage in (see e.g. Mt 7:5 & Lk 6:42).

  • Sandman

    The answer to stopping the passage of obviously unconstitutional bills is simple, and applies the legal principle of vicarious liability to legislatve processes such as this, or school boards voting to make creationism part of science classes.

    If the bill or board decision is challenged legally in a court, and the case lost because the decision was obviously unconstitutional in light of very obvious and easily looked up precedent, then the persons voting through the bill or making the board decision are held directly liable for the court costs of the lost case to defend their stupdity. If a state legislature or education authority legal department gave them bad advice, then they are included on the hit list of vicariously liable parties.

    Once you start to hit the god botherers directly in their own pockets and wallets you will soon see an end to this sort of stupidity and legislative abuse.

  • TnkAgn

    Lee v. Weisman (1992) should have put this to rest forever:

    But the religionists keep chipping away, just like they do on teaching creationism:

    I don’t know whether the TX case will go before SCOTUS, but let’s hope Obama gets the next  nomination to the High Court.

  • observer

    It’s even more interesting when you think that the reason for prayer is a kind of personal request from God. Kind of like writing a Christmas letter to Santa.
    Frankly, I’m not interested in what you want from Santa, I’m not certainly not interested in what you want from God. Especially since A) There’s a high chance the answer’s going to be “no.” and B) Isn’t one of God’s aspect is knowing all, and what will happen? so God would grant your request anyway, making prayer redundant…right?

  • Jesus does not forbid public prayer – he speaks out against the hypocrisy of the Farisees. The graduates good be guilty of this or they couldn’t.

  • Rwlawoffice

    As a Christian I can answer this question- You are misreading Matthew and the  teaching of this passage.  The point being made is that we are to be sincere in our prayers not just to pray in private.  There are plenty of verses in the Bible that teach to prayer communally and with others.

  • Yes, but not others who’d rather learn in school than be forced to listen to prayers.

  • TnkAgn

    Not that it matters, but let’s hear ’em.

  • Former Thumper

    As a person going for a teaching degree in Florida this decision(in spite of my letter and the letters of many other Floridian atheists) upsets me greatly.  I would say please don’t believe that we are this stupid in Florida, but alas, when it comes to the majority population, I cannot.

  • T-Rex

    I’ve written numerous letters to my representatives about issues such as this over the years pleading with them to shoot down these idiotic Bills, but to no avail. I guess my next letter will simply state that I will be offering myself up as a plaintiff when the law suits are filed. There is no reasoning with dipshits like them and I’m tired of wasting my time trying to.

  • Of course he forbid public prayer! He complained about the Pharisees, to be sure, but he also made an unconditional and generalized statement about how his followers were to pray.

    Look, Jesus is your guy. You can either obey his teachings or not. It’s entirely up to you, and since I’m not a Christian, it’s not my problem. It’s yours. That you can rationalize away obeying him doesn’t mean you’re not disobeying him.

    I’d respect Christians more if they would just be honest about what they do. In this case, they should just say, “I know Jesus ordered us not to pray publicly; I’m just choosing to do it anyway.”

    But then, if you do that, you leave unanswered the question, “Why profess to follow someone whose teachings you have no intention of obeying?” Unfortunately I can’t answer that for you. I can only wonder what would make you wish to be that sort of hypocrite …

  • Alex

    Right. So, your version of sincerity is loudly praying from the podium at the event that has shit to do with religion and forcing others to listen regardless of their religious views? That’s a bit of a stretch, don’t you think?

    The whole point of this idiocy is precisely against the verse I’m referring to: self-righteous ideological masturbation.

  • Anonymous

    Florida – truly America’s wang! They have their own category on Fark for a reason!

  • Anonymous

    Exactly. There is nothing “sincere” whatsoever about prayers at graduations, sports events or political rallies. It’s just a way to say “Look everyone what a good little Christian I am”

  • You personally may not be “stupid,” but clearly, your co-religionists are. Now that you know it, what do you plan to do about it? Just let them run around being stupid … and doing unacceptable things in the name of your own religion? Or do you plan to do something about it? Are you going to educate them so they’re not stupid any more? Are you going to confront them about what they’re up to? Block them from doing it somehow? What?

    At some point, the “smart” (as opposed to the “stupid”) Christians are going to have to take their own religion back. Christianity belongs as much to the smart Christians as it does to the stupid ones. Unfortunately, one would never know it … because the smart ones sit on their hind ends while the stupid ones abscond with Christianity.

    If smart Christians don’t care enough about their own religion to police it, then they have no right to expect outsiders to respect their religion — or them. It’s just that simple.

  • Alex

    I feel your pain. Georgia has the same problem: no matter what you do, logic and reason remains in the minority, and everyone ends up looking like a bunch of ignorant and stupid rednecks.

  •  “an inspirational message to be delivered by students at a student assembly.”

    It’s sounds like free-speech to me. Since when can the students not express their religion on “government grounds”?

  • Alex

    Are you saying that the parallel between these guys and the Pharisees is completely lost on you? Standing and praying on street corners so that they may be seen by others? …Nothing?

    Look, I can’t speak for everybody, but I personally don’t object people praying in public. It looks silly to me, but whatever: we have plenty of people engaging in silly stuff all the damn time. It becomes an issue only when they insist that they are entitled to express their views, and others don’t have a choice but to listen. Graduation is about education, not invocation of deities; it’s a secular ceremony — that is, unless we are talking about a seminary or something like that.

    Besides, both you and I know christians would be the first in line to complain if the speaker recited some other religion’s prayer or went on to discuss how wonderful it is to live without gods in your life; it has happened before, and it will happen again, just wait. Hypocrisy and religion seem to go hand in hand.

  • Annie

    I like your idea for your next letter.  We need to write to our representatives, since it already passed in the senate. 

  • Pureone

    Then god changed his mind, or there is a contradiction. What’s the correct answer then?And if you mean 1 Timothy 2:8 Jesus trumps Paul.

  • Anonymous

    Prayer HA! I’ve never been so disgusted by a so called school prayer given at my child’s high school graduation. The student actually called on them to sway others to seek the truth in Jesus Christ. Which was followed by cheers of the crowd like someone had just scored a touchdown. Then speaking somewhat loudly with my other surprised child next to me about what we just witnessed, many others around us gave looks us that could kill.

  • Amerist

    “Since when can the students not express their religion on ‘government

    When students are acting as agents of the public school, and
    not private individuals, they are agents of the government. It is an issue regarding
    the establishment clause when the government, via its agents, expresses
    religious attunement.

    This is not a case speaking to the beliefs or expression of
    religion by students as private individuals on or off “government grounds.” (As students already have that right it is unaffected.) In
    fact neither the words “government grounds” nor their counterparts appear
    anywhere in the discussion of the unconstitutionality of this bill so…

    Perhaps thou’ve misread the rebuttal?

  • Anonymous

    I think they’ve truly missed the point of “freedom of religion” if they feel it means it’s necessary to make sure the majority can continue expressing that religion over the objections of everyone else.

  • Good ol’ Florida. I remember when I was in high school (graduated in 2009) our budget cuts were getting so bad that our principle even considered asking the student body to *donate* toilet paper because we didn’t have enough funds to cover it for the year. Thankfully the school managed to find a way to fit it into the budget.. but that was the state of things.

    Nice to see Florida legislature working on what *really* matters. Forcing garbage down students’ throats.


  • “When students are acting as agents of the public school, and
    not private individuals, they are agents of the government. It is an issue regarding
    the establishment clause when the government, via its agents, expresses
    religious attunement.”

    It’s hard to decipher what you mean by “Agents”. It doesn’t matter however; for the students are acting as volunteers and still maintain the status of “private individuals”. ( “All prayers of invocation or benediction will be given by student volunteers.”. )
    NOT the aforementioned “agents of the government”.

  • westley

    But not ALL students who wish to speak will be allowed; only those who are selected (i.e. only those of the local majority opinion).

    As others have already pointed out, Lee v. Weisman made this unlawful a decade ago.

  • Wrong, the bill states:(a) Students who are responsible for organizing any
     student-led portion of a student assembly shall:
     1. Have sole discretion in determining whether an inspirational message is to be delivered.
     2. Choose the student volunteers who will deliver an inspirational message. The student volunteers shall be solely responsible for the preparation and content of the inspirational message.NOT the majority.

  • Pure Guava

    I wish Dan Barker did a little better job in this interview.

    He kept getting (tricked into being?) defensive about things that were subjective and inconsequential. 

  • Amerist

    Thou should not have been convinced by this “volunteer” reply; nobody else should either.

    Volunteering does not exempt a person from becoming the
    agent of another authority (i.e. a person need not be paid to be an agent—being
    granted power/authority is enough because agency flows from authority.) The
    authority and therefore agency of these students is given to them by the school
    officials (as agents of the state) who are providing their
    state-granted authority to the students.
    School functions are not the private time of the students; they’re the public time of the school! To argue that the students can act as the officials would (in the organization and authority capacity) are still acting as private persons begs incredulity–they’re performing the duties of the officials and during a school function no less.
    I think Westley has already covered (repeatedly) why the
    above is unconstitional.


  • Fentwin

    I’d love it if a student offered their sincere desire to pray at their graduation and then serve up this nice dish;

    “”Let us praise God. Oh Lord, oooh you are so big. So absolutely huge. Gosh, we’re all really impressed down here I can tell you. Forgive us, O Lord, for this dreadful toadying and barefaced flattery. But you are so strong and, well, just so super. Fantastic. Amen.””


    Are you saying that the parallel between these guys and the Pharisees is completely lost on you? Standing and praying on street corners so that they may be seen by others? …Nothing?

    Nope, that’s not what he said. He directly admitted to the parallel:

    He complained about the Pharisees, to be sure

    And then made this valid point:

    but he also made an unconditional and generalized statement about how his followers were to pray.

    How is that valid? Matthew 6:6

    But when you pray, go into your room, close the door
    and pray to your Father, who is unseen. Then your Father, who sees what
    is done in secret, will reward you.

    That part is a direct guideline on how to pray and where. Christians will be rewarded for praying, specifically, in secret.

    Look, I can’t speak for everybody, but I personally don’t object people
    praying in public. It looks silly to me, but whatever: we have plenty of
    people engaging in silly stuff all the damn time.

    Absolutely! And nobody here is arguing against that. They can worship and pray and prance around in magical underwear all they want and nobody here objects to their right to do that. We’re just saying their religious text tells them not to, and they’re disregarding it.

  • Elli Pemberton

    This is sort of related: I’ve been in school assemblies where we’ve had a “moment of silence” in respect of whatever, for whatever reason. I’d like to point out that just because they didn’t come out and say “take a moment to pray” doesn’t mean that that isn’t the implication. Sneaky way to get around things. If I were still in school today, I’d start shouting one of the Katamari Damacy songs, XKCD style. 

  • Elli Pemberton

     If a student volunteered, or if they were appointed by vote or by administration doesn’t really matter. When you have one or several students speaking at a graduation, they’re speaking FOR their class. The WHOLE CLASS.

    I am not attending my class’ graduation in May, but if I did, I certainly wouldn’t want someone who is speaking for me, as part of the class, to pray or publicly endorse religion. Those aren’t my values or my views.

    Really, those graduation speakers are representatives of the class. Regardless of whether or not you agree that they’re acting as government agents, you can at least agree that they are meant to represent the graduating students. And they’re mostly speaking to the audience, not the kids in gowns.

  • TnkAgn

    In any case, it amounts to prosthelytization that is government (school district) sponsored. This will never pass muster with SCOTUS, even with it’s current pro-religious make up.

  • Guest

    Just replace “student” with “Sheriff” and you should see the problem here. Students are “agents” of the government when they act on the government’s behalf. In this case the school district, acting through the individual school, is the government.

  • Cfox

    I really do not think that the average person any more has the ability to distinguish between fact and fantasy.    They certainly do not understand the 1st amendment.    Maybe they need to be reminded that the underlying organizations funding the “evangelical” movement against everyone they are afraid of is the Catholic Church.   That ought to get the Baptists attention!   The Foundation for Christian Civilization has , in its charter, the plan to do away with the protestant reformation and return the world to the 14th century where all are Catholics.

  • unclemike

    I think you mis-read her, PsiCop. It appears FormerThumper’s an atheist, not religious anymore (her name, after all, is FORMER Thumper), so the people who are for this law cannot be rightly called “co-religionists” if FT’s not a Christian, good or bad.

    Unless I totally misconstrued her parenthetical comment about “other Floridian atheists.”

  • unclemike

    Are students allowed to opt-out of any assemblies or ceremonies where a prayer is to be given? Forcing someone not of your faith to listen to a prayer of your faith, majority or not, seems un-American, no?

    Nobody has ever tried to stop a private individual student from praying privately at school. Giving a prayer as part of a taxpayer-funded school activity is crossing the line.

    Can’t wait until the first Muslim or Satanist tries to offer a prayer.

  • I may well have misread her, she referred to “we” being this stupid. I construed the “we” as Christians, not Floridians.

    In any event, then, my comment would not be directed toward her, but to any “smart” Christians who might wish to disavow their “stupid” co-religionists and try to evade responsibility for them.

  • Former Thumper

    Thanks, you hit the name on the head.  The name refers to my bible thumping past.  And by “we” I meant Floridians.  Also I’m a he if anyone’s curious.

  • Alex

    In the end, we have the law telling them not to do it, common sense telling them not to do it, even their own holy book telling them not to do it… yet they still proudly do it. I guess I just don’t get it.

  • “the right of students to be heard when they’re expressing a religious message”

    So we get a loudspeaker for our laughter, too?

  • Rt

    The problem isn’t really the prayer, its the invitation.

    If a student invites other students to a group prayer, shamanic ritual, harry potter board game or whatever, that’s all fine.

    If the government mandates kids go to school and then appoints a school leadership that “invites”/asks everyone to sit together and watch a stage or else miss out on getting a diploma at a graduation ceremony things start getting tricky. If this is done knowing full well classmates are gonna expect each other to show up an celebrate together (a subtle pressure probably much more effective than forcing young people to do anything). Then you get a problem if you also get people to sit trough sectarian religious stuff. Who specifically the government puts on the stage and what specific kind of prayer they ask the crowd to join in on is irrelevant. But, the fact you bring it up and apparently think it is relevant reveals something about you.

    The fact that many americans have trouble telling the difference between student prayer and organised school prayer suggest to me they are really invested in this idea that there are evil forces trying to stop innocent christians from praying. You know, instead of just ordinary people who want the tax-funded schools they are paying for and sending their kids to to be equally welcome of all kids without putting them through unwanted proselytizing or unnecessary peer pressure. Back in 2008 only 74% of Floridian adults considered themselves christian, a number that tends to go down a little every year and be lower for young people. (Both facts known to be part of why some people work so hard to try and illegally proselytize in schools)

    All the clever legislative language and trickery (Its not god its the “intelligent designer”, its not my decision its the decision of whoever wins the lottery/vote, you cant touch me because look I am hiding behind a student volunteer) does is make it so people don’t have to embarrassingly put in writing which particular religion they want to promote. But that doesn’t matter because promoting *any* religion is banned if the school gets involved, for example by getting students to listen. Technically it might also get religious people who happen to serve jealous gods in trouble if they write down there are many gods and bowing down before any one of them is all equally good… and if you write down people should pray to whoever they like when you actually feel they should only pray to the one true god then you have to ask yourself what kind of witness you are bearing… not that I care about the first one, but you know, just putting it out there. All this trickery does is prove that the people behind this legislative language are disingenuous, it really doesn’t fix the problem of schools promoting a religion.

    If you are the first one to bring up that for example technically a Muslim could lead the prayer (Look under your chair: its a prayer rug! You get a prayer rug! you get a prayer rug! everybody gets a prayer rug!!! now shut up and face Mecca) Then all it does is show that legislative cleverness aside you DO in fact care  about which specific religion gets promoted. We know this must be something that is on your mind because you would never come up with such an argument if you asked yourself which arguments would convince us. As atheist, like the supreme court, incidentally, we don’t care one way or the other.

    Bottom line: Its not the job of public schools to make people pray.

  • Sue

    I work in a Florida school — this is such annoying BS.  There are plenty of opportunities for student prayer groups, and students/staff are already forced to pay respects to the “under god” pledge of allegiance.  My school is probably 95% Christian and the other 5% are marginalized enough already.

  • Hardstyle Rocker

    Being a floridian who attends public school, I think i cried a little.

  • Foreverlliberal
  • Sue

    The students who are organizing the assembly will likely be members of the majority religion, and thus will happily choose volunteers who will be voices of the majority religion… this bill will create a “majority rules” effect even if it is not stated as such

  • Annie

    For Florida residents:  here is the letter I sent to my Representative.  Feel free to use any parts or doctor it up/improve it  as you see fit.  We need to make our voices loud and clear on this issue.

    I am writing to you in regards to Senate Bill 98, which
    recently passed in the Florida Senate, and will be coming to the House
    soon.  This bill authorizes a district
    school board to adopt a policy that allows inspirational messages to be
    delivered by students at a student assembly.


    As a teacher and mother of a public school student in Alachua County, I see this bill as a step back
    in our continued attempt for inclusion of all students in the public school
    system.  All of our students deserve to
    be in schools where they feel safe and welcome, and I strongly believe that this
    bill would not support such an environment.


    One of the strengths of Alachua
    County, and more specifically, the
    city of Gainesville,
    is our incredible diversity.  The University of Florida brings families from all over
    the world to our community, and I believe the exposure of our students to
    various cultures is a great strength.  It
    allows children to see themselves as citizens of the world.  Children who realize at a young age that
    there are many beautiful people from all over the planet are generally more
    tolerant of those that are different from them. 
    Working together and having friends from different cultures offers a
    type of education that cannot be duplicated through books or lessons.  Our students are richer because of this, and
    I am glad my daughter has the opportunity to grow and learn amidst such


    Allowing “inspirational messages”, which we both know is
    referring to prayer, would not accomplish the things I’ve mentioned above.  What message does the Hindu child receive
    when a Christian prayer is recited at her graduation?  Will a predominately Christian community
    embrace the right of a Muslim student to lead his classmates in prayer?  And what about the humanist child, who does
    not believe in any god or gods?  Will she
    feel welcome and safe in a school where student-led prayer is supported?


    This is not a new issue in America.  In 1965, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
    eloquently supported the Supreme Court’s decision to keep prayers out of our
    public schools.  King said, “Contrary to
    what many have said, it sought to outlaw neither prayer nor belief in God.  In a pluralistic society such as ours, who is
    to determine what prayers shall be spoken, and by whom?  Legally, constitutionally or otherwise, the
    state certainly has no such right.  I am
    strongly opposed to the efforts that have been made to nullify the decision.  They have been motivated, I think, by little
    more than the wish to embarrass the Supreme Court.  When I saw Brother Wallace [Governor George
    Wallace of Alabama] going up to Washington to testify
    against the decision at the congressional hearings, it only strengthened my
    conviction that the decision was right.”


    If this bill were to pass into law, the state of Florida would open
    itself up to numerous law suits. I am confident that the State and School
    Boards would lose such law suits, as the plaintiffs will have the foresight of
    our founding fathers in the form of the U.S. Constitution on their side. 


    We live in an amazing country.  We are allowed to live and worship as we
    choose.  Please help keep religion where
    it belongs; in our homes, churches, synagogues and temples, but not in our

  • I’m going to convert our kids to Satanism, and send them to school with live animals to sacrifice, in a pentagram, singing the music from the Omen!  “SANCTUS!! DOMINUS!!!”

  • stopthemorons

    From Chicago, that explains it all.

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