TAMPA - A new Florida law took effect Sunday, protecting prayer in school. Now, school systems may choose whether to adopt a policy protecting "inspirational" messages student given by students at assemblies or other gatherings.
After heated debate, Governor Scott signed SB 98 into law in March. It took effect July 1.
"It takes another step toward church-state entanglement," Michael Harvey said.
Harvey is the father of two Hillsborough County school students. He cringes when talking about a new law allowing schools to adopt a policy protecting prayer, even if it includes any kind of inspirational message.
"With a nod and a wink we know that inspiration is basically code speak for sectarian religion," Harvey said.
A self-identifying Agnostic Humanist, Harvey may seem an obvious opponent of Senate Bill 98.
But Kelly Ann Myers, a Christian mother of three, isn't celebrating either.
"I do think it's a step backwards," she said.
Myers chose public school for her three sons because she wanted them exposed to what she calls the real world, filled with all kinds of beliefs. For her, that includes teachers, but the new law prohibits staff members from delivering or selecting an inspirational message themselves, or influencing student involvement.
"I don't think anybody should be pressured, but I think everybody, equally, should be able to express what they believe in," Myers said.
Despite strong reaction from parents, though, school systems are barely discussing it. Students in Hillsborough County have always been able to thank God in speeches or hold prayer meetings.
"And some people will say, 'Can they do that?' And the answer is yes, absolutely, they can do that,'" said spokesman Steve Hegarty.
The same goes for Pinellas and Polk County. So, the issue may have just settled in Tallahassee, but it doesn't appear to have changed much in the classroom
"I know that in Hillsborough County, we settled those issues a long time ago," Hegarty said.
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