State Sen. Ronda Storms (R-Valrico) recently submitted a bill to authorize school boards to permit the “delivery of inspirational messages.” The bill, however, is not as innocent as its summary may suggest. It will create a statute to allow prayer and invocations at non-compulsory high school events — granted the number of students in favor of the prayer constitute a majority.
According to the bill, the purpose for the allowance of these prayers is to “provide for the solemnization and memorialization of non-compulsory high school events and ceremonies.” This justification is spurious at best. If one strictly follows the language of the bill’s purpose, Storms seems to be suggesting that celebration and remembrance are not possible without the injection of religious speech.
Even if the bill passes, it is in direct contention with a recent federal court ruling in which the Santa Barbara County school district was barred from hosting a baccalaureate. According to an American Civil Liberties Union press release, the federal injunction prohibits “promoting or sponsoring prayers during school-sponsored events” — and for good reason.
The state legislature should not establish or promote any religious activity in order to preserve the sanctity of the First Amendment.
Thomas Jefferson saliently explained the rationale for prohibiting religious influence in government in his “Wall of Separation” letter:
“(Believing) that religion is a matter which lies solely between man and his god … I contemplate with sovereign reverence that act of the whole American people which declared that their legislature should make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof, thus building a wall of separation between church and state.”
These principles hold true regardless of whether a majority of participants is in favor of a particular religion. The separation must be continued, for its purpose is to universally respect all citizens regardless of their creed. The benefits of this partition are not limited to those without — or those holding unpopular — religious beliefs. It is rare to find those — even in the majority — who can agree on a method of invoking said beliefs.
Efforts to legislatively weaken the separation of church and state may be a politically sound decision in a district in which voters fit the majority demographic. Unfortunately, these actions serve as an unconstitutional distraction from the true function of public education — learning.