You have reached your limit of free articles this month.

Enjoy unlimited access to myPalmBeachPost.com

Starting at just 99¢ for 8 weeks.

GREAT REASONS TO SUBSCRIBE TODAY!

  • IN-DEPTH REPORTING
  • INTERACTIVE STORYTELLING
  • NEW TOPICS & COVERAGE
  • ePAPER
X

You have read of premium articles.

Get unlimited access to all of our breaking news, in-depth coverage and bonus content- exclusively for subscribers. Starting at just 99¢ for 8 weeks

X

Welcome to myPalmBeachPost.com

This subscriber-only site gives you exclusive access to breaking news, in-depth coverage, exclusive interactives and bonus content.

You can read free articles of your choice a month that are only available on myPalmBeachPost.com.

Florida Senate OKs bill to expand religious expression in schools


A bill whose sponsor says it is aimed at protecting displays of religious faith in public schools passed the Senate on nearly party-line vote Thursday, while a more-limited version moved toward the House floor.

The Senate voted 23-13 to approve its bill (SB 436), after a sometimes-emotional debate. Sen. Daphne Campbell, D-Miami, joined Republicans in voting for the legislation.

RELATED: Complete Florida Legislature coverage

The proposal would extend protection to religious activities and organizations and seek to prevent discrimination against students or school employees based on their faith. It would require school districts to approve a “limited public forum” policy for student speakers, which supporters said would give student speakers more leeway in their religious comments at school events.

Supporters of the legislation say students have, for example, been told they can’t use a religious figure in a paper about role models or can’t bring Bibles to school.

Supporters say the bill would largely reaffirm court rulings on First Amendment rights while signaling to school districts what should and shouldn’t be allowed. They disputed suggestions that the bill was intended to favor some religious convictions at the expense of others.

“This isn’t protecting a faith,” said Sen. Dennis Baxley, an Ocala Republican who sponsored the bill. “It’s protecting all people’s freedom to express their hearts.”

But opponents said the bills are an unnecessary measure that could lead to some children being ostracized if they don’t join student-led religious displays.

“I believe that there is already time for prayer and expression, and I don’t believe that isolated incidents should then be an impetus for a law that really will create, I believe, more misunderstanding than understanding,” said Sen. Audrey Gibson, D-Jacksonville.

Added Sen. Gary Farmer, D-Fort Lauderdale: “The right to religious belief is not being taken away if we don’t pass this bill.”

While the Senate debate over the legislation has been polarizing, the version of the bill in the normally more partisan House has moved through quickly and largely unopposed.

The House Education Committee vote Thursday was unanimous — though three Democrats weren’t there to vote — following similar approval at a subcommittee. The House measure (HB 303) is also sponsored by a pair of Democrats: Kimberly Daniels of Jacksonville and Patricia Williams of Lauderdale Lakes.

That version, though, does not include the requirement for school districts to approve a “limited public forum” policy for student speakers.

Baxley, who said he used the original House language for his bill, suggested after the Senate vote Thursday that the difference could make reaching an agreement problematic if the House insisted.

“In the process, they kind of watered theirs down a little bit, and we really like the constraints that were in the bill to make it function,” Baxley said. “Because otherwise, I don’t know there’s anything being done.”



Reader Comments ...


Next Up in Politics

Palm Beach County worried about proposed hike in homestead exemption
Palm Beach County worried about proposed hike in homestead exemption

Legislation that could lead to the expansion of Florida’s homestead exemption could blow a $29 million hole in Palm Beach County’s budget, county officials warn. The Florida House of Representatives is expected to vote Wednesday on a joint resolution (HJR 7105) that would have voters decide if they want to increase the homestead exemption...
Trump expected to order study of federal role in education
Trump expected to order study of federal role in education

 President Donald Trump is expected to sign an executive order today that would require Education Secretary Betsy DeVos to study how the federal government "has unlawfully overstepped state and local control," according to a White House official.   Trump has repeatedly pledged to downsize the Education Department and its role...
Trump changes course on childcare benefit after criticism he would mainly help well-off families
Trump changes course on childcare benefit after criticism he would mainly help well-off families

 The White House is pursuing a new approach to providing relief for families burdened by childcare costs after receiving criticism that a campaign proposal would have done little to help working-class families while providing disproportionate benefits to well-off parents.   President Donald Trump's administration is now looking to bolster...
White House scurries as 100-day mark nears
White House scurries as 100-day mark nears

The final frenzy at the White House began Monday, with a private reception for conservative news publications, a tariff on softwood lumber imports from Canada and the late-night debut of a website highlighting President Donald Trump's "First 100 Days" achievements.   It continued Tuesday in the form of an executive order designed...
PBC commissioners blast workforce housing program’s poor performance
PBC commissioners blast workforce housing program’s poor performance

Palm Beach County commissioners blasted a county program designed to provide housing to middle income workers in the county, saying it has not provided enough assistance while costs continue to rise. No single family houses have been built in the workforce housing program’s 11 years of existence, and only 754 multi-family units have...
More Stories