Florida Schools May Allow Student-Led Prayer

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A school prayer bill passed the Florida legislature 88-27 Thursday and is on its way to Gov. Rick Scott.

The measure allows the state's school boards to permit student-initiated prayer and other "inspirational messages" at public school assemblies.

Gov. Scott is expected to sign the bill into law.

"As you know, I believe in Jesus Christ, and I believe that individuals should have the right to say a prayer," Scott said.

According to the Orlando Sentinel, the vote ends several years of effort by Sen. Gary Siplin, D-Orlando, and Rep. Charles Van Zant, R-Keystone Heights. Siplin's measure passed the Senate a week ago.

Van Zant, who holds a Masters of Divinity degree and also attended Western Baptist Theological Seminary, told the Sentinel the bill was not about prayer, but about "inspirational" messaging and free speech.

Student-crafted messages -- faculty and staff are banned from involvement -- would bring a tone of respect and civility to the classroom, he said.

Van Zant further noted that much has happened in the 50-plus years since the U.S. Supreme Court banned compulsory prayer in schools.

"Before we removed inspirational messages, the No. 1 problem was talking out of turn," Van Zant said. "Now, it's drug abuse."

Opponents say the measure violates the separation of church and state and plan to challenge it in court.

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