Florida Governor Rick Scott has signed a law guaranteeing religious expression in schools.
The House version of the bill was sponsored by Rep. Kim Daniels, D-Jacksonville, who's also a pastor. When she presented it to the House in April, she said it clarifies what’s already legal.
“The bill allows prayer and related activities that are voluntary and non-intrusive and during non-instructional time,” she said. “Laws already exist that give these rights on the federal level. This bill gives clarity to bring consistency on a district level for these laws to be carried out.”
The newly signed law says districts can’t discriminate against students, parents or teachers on the basis of religion. It also says students can express religious views in class assignments and with their clothing and jewelry, and students can pray before, during and after school, and teachers can join in before and after school.
During debates, some lawmakers argued the bill is unconstitutional, especially a portion in the Senate version, which was adopted, that said students can lead prayers at school events like assemblies and sporting events. Sen. Audrey Gibson, D-Jacksonville, voted against the legislation.
“It deals with students from all different backgrounds, teachers from all different backgrounds, all different religions and it’s the management that has to take place in the schools that I think will open us up for more lawsuits,” said Gibson on the Senate floor in March.
She and other lawmakers also argued students of different religions might feel ostracized or be bullied.
The new law requires the state's Department of Education Department to establish a policy around student prayer at school events for districts to adopt.
A spokeswoman for Duval Schools said protection from discrimination on the basis of religion is already incorporated in the district’s anti-discrimination policy.
She said Duval will follow federal, state and local statutes, as well as any guidance from the Department of Education.
Lindsey Kilbride can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org, 904-358-6359 or on Twitter at@lindskilbride