Two Christian lawmakers in Florida have introduced a bill that would give religious expression equal weight with secular activities in public schools.
Democratic Rep. Kimberly Daniels and Republican Sen. Dennis Baxley, have prepared identical bills that are intended to protect religious expression in public schools in Florida.
House Bill 303 and Senate Bill 436, filed by Daniels and Baxley respectively, would prohibit school districts from discriminating on the basis of religious viewpoint or expression.
The legislation would allow students to include religious content and themes in their counsel work, and it indicated that the students should not be penalized or rewarded for such content.
Daniels, who leads the non-denominational Spoken Word Ministries, argued that if the state can provide the funds for chaplains in prison, it should also be permissible in schools.
"How can a state fund and have chaplains in prisons and not have chaplains in schools? A child should not have to wait to go to prison to meet a chaplain. And I think that says it all." said Daniels, as reported by WFSU.
House Bill 303 has been referred to the Judiciary Committee, the Education Committee and PreK-12 Quality Subcommittee for review, according to Ocala Star Banner. Baxley said that the Senate president has referred Senate Bill 436 to two committees.
Baxley said he thinks that the policy environment in public education has gone too far, and it restrains anything that is faith-based.
He cited examples of coaches being told not to pray with players before a game and students being sent home for wearing religious clothing and jewelry.
Baxley said that his bill would clarify what is allowed and ensure that school districts don't directly or indirectly impede individual rights in an attempt to avoid controversy.
Some people think that the measures are redundant as the First Amendment already protects people who work in or attend public schools.
Kirk Bailey, political director for the American Civil Liberties Union of Florida, said that his organization has not seen cases or examples of people associated with public schools being denied their rights as referenced in the bill.
Some have expressed concern that the legislation might have intended consequences, such as allowing the expression of Satanism in schools.
"I just believe that's a distraction to what the real issue is," Daniels said when asked about the issue. "We just have to deal with that if it arrives," she added.
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