House Amends Bill On School Prayer
Publication date: 2001-04-17
Arrival time: 2001-04-20
The House moved closer on Monday to voting on a bill that would allow school districts statewide to have a prayer at commencement exercises and voluntary student assemblies.
Any prayer would have to be given by a student volunteer, and would have to be "nonsectarian and nonproselytizing in nature" and uninfluenced by school officials.
After lengthy debate over the bill's constitutionality, the House passed one amendment that would prohibit districts from selecting the student volunteer by a majority vote.
The bill's main sponsor, Rep. Wilbert Holloway, D-Miami, said the amended bill (HB 1199) isn't intended to further any religious belief and would allow districts to select volunteers randomly. Holloway, a Baptist, had three co-sponsors who say they are Baptist, Episcopalian and Roman Catholic.
Arguments centered on whether the House needed to weigh in on the debate, which has been reinvigorated by a federal court case in Duval County, and if so, how to create a law that could survive a constitutional challenge. Several federal cases, including a U.S. Supreme Court decision in June, have found that student-led prayer at school events violates separation of church and state.
In the case against the Duval County School Board, the court must decide whether the policy of permitting students to vote on selecting a student to deliver an invocation at graduation is unconstitutional for the same reason. After the school board won early court battles, the U.S. Supreme Court remanded the case to the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.
House lawmakers were eager to be heard during Tuesday's debate.
"What the bill is trying to do is recapture the right we lost," said Mike Hogen, R-Jacksonville. "My 12 years in public schools started with a pledge of allegiance and a prayer. I don't recall at that time mass murders at schools."
Reps. Anne Gannon, D-Delray Beach, and Kenneth Gottlieb, D-Hollywood, pushed an unsuccessful amendment that would have required schools to rotate the student volunteers to ensure every faith is included.
"There's no way to ensure the Bahai get a voice; there's no procedure to make sure the Muslims have a voice," Gottlieb said.
The House is likely to vote on the bill when it reconvenes on April 24. There is no companion bill in the Senate.
©Copyright 2001, Palm Beach Post