Joyous news, proselytizers of the world -- if Gov. Rick Scott signs the bill that the Florida House passed moments ago, Florida public school districts will now totally have the ability to allow prayer in public schools.
The bill, SB 98, doesn't explicitly allow prayer in schools, but it does say school districts can adopt policies allowing for "inspirational messages" on the condition that the schools don't control the actual message. That way, the logic goes, the school isn't endorsing the prayer because it didn't know the prayer was coming.
If you expect Florida school districts to make the right choice on their own, consider that, as of last year, 27 of them still allowed students to be beaten with paddles.
The bill says students need "the opportunity for formal or ceremonious observance of an occasion or event." Praise the Lord! The varsity basketball team is playing the cross-town rival!
If you think interpreting this as a prayer bill is a stretch, consider that the original text of the bill specifically said, "The use of a prayer of invocation or benediction is at the discretion of the student government," which seems to be in conflict with a big pile of Supreme Court cases.
That's OK, though -- North Florida Republican Charles Van Zant told the House that removing prayer from schools is what's caused so many of society's gosh-durned problems, according to the Sun-Sentinel.
"Before we removed inspirational messages, the number-one problem was talking out of turn," he said. "Now, it's drug abuse."
But Davie Democrat Marty Kiar said the inspirational messages could also be used to advocate for drug abuse:
"What really concerns me is that the bill sponsor basically said that a student can even preach something that could endanger the health and safety of our students," he said. "They could advocate for drug abuse, they could advocate for gang violence, and that scares me."
The Sentinel also paraphrased Kiar saying that a student could say the Holocaust didn't occur. What's going on up there in Tallahassee?
(Kiar introduced an amendment yesterday to, among other things, prohibit "messages of hate." It failed.)
Delray Beach Democratic Rep. Lori Berman said that she, as part of a small minority of Jewish students, felt awkward discussing religion when she was in elementary school, according to the Palm Beach Post. Because, hey, when you let kids decide which god gets prayed to, the popular one's probably going to win.
"Our constitution protects us from state-sponsored prayer, and this bill is clearly unconstitutional," Berman said.
Boca Democratic Rep. Irv Slosberg agreed, predicting that lawsuits are almost certainly being written up as we speak.
"The only message we're going to be sending," Slosberg said, "is, 'Hello, school boards, get out your checkbooks.'"