March 1, 2012
Below please find a statement from Howard Simon, Executive Director of ACLU of Florida, on the passage today of Senate Bill 98 which encourages school districts to set policies allowing prayer or other religious messages at official school functions:
“This bill is and always has been unnecessary and divisive. Students have a right to voluntarily pray on their own time in school right now. Students don’t need the advice or permission of the Legislature to exercise their constitutionally protected rights to religious expression.
“If any local school districts follow the Legislature’s suggestion and moves to allow religious speeches and prayers at official school functions, it will trigger a landslide of litigation.
"Just one lawsuit in Florida involving school sanctioned religious activity in Santa Rosa County took years to resolve and cost the district more than $500,000 in fees and costs. Imagine that in 66 more counties. At a time when education dollars are in such short supply, this bill is little more than a full-employment act for religious liberties lawyers and a costly nightmare for school officials and parents.
“It is distressing to see our Legislature was misled by concocted claims of First Amendment rights to freedom of speech. Freedom of speech does not include the right to have a captive audience listen to religious messages.”