On Monday, March 6, Florida's Senate Education Committee is scheduled to hear testimony on a bill that will facilitate religious indoctrination in public schools.
Senate Bill 436 supposedly nurtures religious viewpoints in the classroom, but will likely confuse public school employees and lead to avoidable lawsuits. The bill mostly protects conduct that is already legal for students, but it also adds new obligations for public schools that could lead to constitutional violations. Embedded in the bill is language that will encourage public school educators to violate the law by promoting their personal religious beliefs to students.
Please call and email your state senator today to voice your opposition to a bill that will result in preventable lawsuits and the violation of students' rights to a public education free from proselytization.
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Additionally, contact the members of the Senate Education Committee to voice your opposition, since they are the ones who will vote on the bill.
(Keep reading if you wish to learn more about the bill.)
SB 436 sows confusion by declaring a new set of protections for actions by students that are already legal and that many students already regularly do. The bill then goes beyond these unnecessary protections and creates new obligations for public schools that will create problems in an attempt to solve a nonexistent issue.
Troublingly, the bill requires public schools to create a "forum" at all events where students are to speak, such as graduation ceremonies. The law is written to encourage student speakers to pray and express their personal religious beliefs at these events. If a student does not want to be indoctrinated in another student's religion, the bill suggests the person "be excused" from the event. This would essentially force minority religious and nonreligious students and their families to choose between attending graduation and avoiding a religious ritual with which they disagree.
The bill also encourages teachers to participate "in religious activities on school grounds that are initiated by students." Staff participation in student religious expression violates the Establishment Clause and, in many circumstances, the federal Equal Access Act, which limits staff participation in student-run clubs to a nonparticipatory supervisory role. If passed, SB 436 will invite avoidable lawsuits, costing taxpayers and school districts dearly.