March 20, 2012The Honorable Rick ScottOffice of the GovernorThe Capitol400 South Monroe StreetTallahassee, FL 32399Dear Governor Scott:On behalf of the Florida members and chapters of Americans United for Separation of Church and State,we write to urge you to
. This bill would permit school districts to allow prayers in the form of
at any school assembly held by an elementary, middle or high school. Each of us are members of differing faiths
one a Baptist minister, one a Presbyterian
USA minister, and one aRabbi
but all of us agree that this bill would violate the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution and isdisrespectful of the religious diversity that makes our state and our nation great. In order to prevent costlylitigation to local school districts, and protect the rights of all public-school students, we urge you to vetothis misguided legislation.Allowing the student government to determine whether prayers should be allowed at school events doesnot insulate the prayers from Constitutional scrutiny. Indeed, this bill would set up a system that mirrorsthe unconstitutional prayer policy struck down in
Santa Fe Independent School District v. Doe.
, schools would have to facilitate the prayers and the prayers would take place during school-sponsored events, on school property, and with school equipment that is under school control.Accordingly, the speech would be attributable to the school and subject to the Establishment Clause of theU.S. Constitution. The prayers would also be attributable to the school because the bill wouldunconstitutionally limit the content and viewpoint of the prayers to those that can be defined as
―inspirational messages.‖ Finally,
the bill permits prayer at all school assemblies. Thus, like in
the prayer practice would unconstitutionally coerce students into hearing the prayers. The result of thislegislation will certainly be litigation, the costs of which local school boards will be forced to bear.As ordained clergy members, we know that religious faith is tremendously important in the lives of somany Floridians, and we have seen the strength, solace, and sense of community that can be gained by anactive religious commitment. We believe that the ability to worship as one sees fit is a fundamental rightthat must be protected; however, this bill is a solution in search of a problem
private, voluntary prayer isalready allowed in public schools. Students certainly have the right to pray in many circumstances so it isunnecessary to include prayers in school assemblies. Forcing prayer upon public-school students not onlyviolates the rights of those students, it also demeans the spiritual significance of religious belief.This bill would also allow those of the majority faith to promote their religious beliefs and practices atpublic school events. Indeed, the Senate Education Committee even eliminated language from the bill
that had required the prayers to be ―non
sectarian and nonproselytizing.‖ But, this wou
ld make studentswho believe in minority faiths and who are non-believers feel like outsiders in their own public schools.
This is one of the very harms the First Amendment exists to prevent.