A new bill sponsored by a Florida Republican would allow high school athletes to spend two minutes before certain games telling Muslims, Jews, and atheists they’re going to burn in Hell for all eternity.
At least that would be possible if State Reps. Webster Barnaby and Clay Yarborough get their way.
The bill they’re co-sponsoring, HB 1027, currently looks like this:
… Each athletic association whose membership includes public schools shall adopt bylaws, policies, or procedures that provide each school participating in a high school championship contest, or series of contests, under the direction and supervision of the association, the opportunity to make brief opening remarks, if requested by the school, using the public address system at the event. Such remarks may not be longer than 2 minutes per school. The athletic association may not control, monitor, or review the content of the opening remarks and may not control the school’s choice of speaker. Before the opening remarks, an announcement must be made that the content of any opening remarks by a participating school are not endorsed by and do not reflect the views and opinions of the athletic association. The decision to allow opening remarks before regular season contests is at the discretion of each school.
(A similar bill, SB 880, is being sponsored by State Senator Ana Maria Rodriguez.)
In practice, here’s what that word salad means: Public schools could request the use of the public address system before a playoff game. Representatives from both teams could spend two minutes each telling the crowd to accept Jesus because not doing so would lead to eternal hellfire.
You know non-Christians aren’t going to get equal opportunities here. Schools can always find a “neutral” way to promote Christianity, like by way of a team vote or coach selection.
There’s nothing in this bill prohibiting a team from publicly praying to God to destroy the other team because their fans are better Christians than those on the other side. There’s nothing prohibiting a speaker from telling LGBTQ people to repent or burn. It would technically be legal for a Muslim student to lead the crowd in a prayer to Allah, but that would create predictable backlash.
You get the idea. This bill is nothing more than a Trojan Horse to allow public demonstrations of prayer at athletic competitions… even though student athletes are already permitted to pray on their own before a game. This isn’t about prayer because that isn’t illegal. This is about making a show of Christian dominance using public school athletes as the vessels.
Why bother with this? Because, Barnaby says, promoting religion is already permitted in the State House:
“I recall the first day that when all of us sat in that House, we opened the House of Representatives with what?” Barnaby said. “Prayer. No one objected to the prayer that was said in the House of Representatives. If it’s good enough for us as representatives it ought to be good enough for our children.”
When it comes to pushing religion on people, there’s a difference between elected adult officials and children. (And also, legislative invocations should be eliminated because they’re a waste of time.)
The real reason Barnaby and his colleagues are doing this is because of a controversy that began in 2015. That December, two private Christian schools made it all the way to the championship game in the state’s class 2A football playoffs. Before the game, one of the school administrators wanted to say prayers over the public address system. But the Florida High School Athletic Association (FHSAA), which oversees all games, correctly said no. This was a state-run event. It was televised. It was at a public facility. It would be illegal for Christians to hijack the loudspeaker system for religious purposes.
Obviously no one was stopping the Christian players and coaches from praying on their own, but as we all know by now, conservative Christians don’t believe prayer counts unless they force it upon everyone else.
The Christians eventually filed a lawsuit over this, and a judge tossed it out in 2017 — because, again, what they wanted was illegal. In 2019, an appeals court reversed part of that ruling, saying there was merit to the case and it needed to be judged on those merits rather than be tossed out altogether. So the whole issue is once again waiting for a ruling from lower courts.
Last year, a similar bill was passed in the Florida House but didn’t get anywhere in the State Senate due to COVID shutdowns.
If this new version passes, though, it would create a host of problems while solving absolutely nothing.
(Image via Shutterstock. Thanks to Brian for the link. Portions of this article were published earlier)