AMENDED FLORIDA “PRAYER” BILL, SB98, WINS SUPPORT FROM LEADING RELIGIOUS LIBERTY ADVOCATES AS SUPPORTING FREE SPEECH OF STUDENTS

(Orlando, FL) Today, the Florida Family Policy Council announced its full support for Senate Bill 98 after previously expressing concerns about early versions of the bill last week.  SB98 in its current and amended form would simply give discretion to local school boards to adopt policies allowing a student to speak freely at special formal school ceremonies without inference, screening or censorship from school officials.  

Earlier versions of the bill only allowed for “prayers and benedictions” which were “non sectarian and nonproselytizing in nature.”  This would have required government run school officials to screen, monitor and ultimately censor a student’s speech. This bill is sorely needed after so many students have been ordered by public school officials around the state and across the country to not mention God, religion, read scripture or offer prayers at graduation or commencement ceremonies.  The bill in its amended form removes the descriptions of the types of speech prohibited by students and also removed the schools role in regulating or censoring the speech of students.  SB98 now allows students to offer any “inspirational message” irrespective of whether the content is religious or secular in nature.  

Florida Family Policy Council President and General Counsel John Stemberger released the following statement:

“With the recent amendment, SB98 has our full support as being constitutionally defensible and we urge its passage by the Florida Legislature.  The bill is sorely needed to protect students from the war against religious liberty and free speech.  The Florida ACLU, the Anti-Defamation League and other left leaning  group’s opposition to this bill even after amended is intellectually dishonest, inconsistent with classical liberalism and really exposes their hostility toward religion as expressed by private citizens in the public square.  The editorial in today’s Miami Herald which criticizes the bill and quotes me is particularly  misleading and disingenuous as it completely ignores the revised impact of the bill as amended.”

Mat Staver, one of the leading First Amendment lawyers in the country and Dean of Liberty University’s School of Law, also reversed his previous opposition to the bill after it was amended. His reasoning was explained in the following statement released to the Florida Family Policy Council today:

“I opposed the original Senate Bill because it allowed only non-sectarian and non-proselytizing  messages, which means it required the state to censor student speech. I believe students have the right to free speech. I support the amended version that removed the censorship language and which allows students to deliver a message of their choice.”

The Florida Family Policy Council is urging Floridians to contact their legislator and urge support and passage of SB98 which is also being picked up in the House and carried in the same form. The bill will come up today before the House Judiciary Committee at 8:00am.

For more information or an in-depth interview contact media@FLfamily.org or call 407-251-5130

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