Florida Senate to consider public school ‘religious liberties’ bill

baxley-dennis

Last week, Jacksonville Democratic Rep. Kim Daniels filed House Bill 303, a measure intended to give religious and secular expression equal weight in public schools.

This week, the bill found a Senate companion.

Senate Bill 436 — the “Florida Student and School Personnel Religious Liberties Act” — would ban school districts “from discriminating against students, parents, & school personnel on basis of religious viewpoints or expression.”

The bill would also allow for “religious expressions,” such as prayer, at school-sponsored events as part of a “limited public forum.”

The bill would allow religious clothing and jewelry. It would also allow “religious expression” in coursework, and also allow for prayer groups and “religious gatherings” that could be organized at any time a commensurate (and undefined) secular activity is permitted, including during the school day.

And, theoretically, that opens the door for religious expressions and gatherings from those of all faiths.

Sen. Dennis Baxley, an Ocala Republican, on Monday discussed his reasons for filing the bill with FloridaPolitics.com.

Part of it, Baxley relates, is rooted in the personal touch.

“Rep. Daniels came over to my office with some friends and asked me,” Baxley related.

Baxley believes that the measure is “worthy of discussion,” and is intended to protect “religious freedom.” However, there are still some wrinkles to be ironed out, he concedes.

When we pointed out that the broad definition of “religious expression” left an opening for an anti-American strain of Islam, Baxley noted that “religious liberty does run that risk factor.”

To that end, Baxley said that “more safeguards” may be needed. These would be worked out in the committee and amendment process, he suggested.

The potential pitfalls, Baxley suggested, are outweighed by the benefits, such as “free religious speech” and “expression of faith.”

“The bill leads [us] in a good direction,” Baxley said, though clearly there is room for refinement.

A.G. Gancarski

A.G. Gancarski has been a correspondent for FloridaPolitics.com since 2014. In 2018, he was a finalist for an Association of Alternative Newsweeklies "best political column." He can be reached at [email protected]


8 comments

  • Teresa J. Sopp

    January 24, 2017 at 7:50 am

    That will work for them as long as the religion expression is Christian. Wait until a Muslim child shows up in a hijab and wants to pray to Allah.

    • Khalid Khan

      January 25, 2017 at 2:08 pm

      Do you have a problem with that hey dumb dumb this is to protect all students of different faiths and is intended to protect all religious freedom. Right now Muslims are behind Christians in population by 2020 we will be the Majority even through out the United States. No need to worry every one will enjoy there freedom!

      • Gavin

        January 26, 2017 at 9:40 pm

        I believe What Teresa was implying was that although the bill is purported to be non-discriminatory in faith, it is likely meant only to provide for the right of Christians, and may lead to faith-based conflicts in schools.

  • Teresa J. Sopp

    January 24, 2017 at 7:51 am

    That will work as long as the religious expression sought to be expressed in Christian. Wait until a Muslim child shows up in a hijab and wants to pray to Allah.

  • Gavin

    January 24, 2017 at 11:24 am

    I wonder how supporters for the bill would react to any non Christian religion being expressed.

    • Bryan G.

      January 28, 2017 at 3:30 pm

      That was my concern also. The wording is not clear, and I do not support this new “Christian First” doctrine. It has over tone that others are not allowed to follow what they believe.

  • Max Johnson

    January 24, 2017 at 11:30 am

    There is good reason, for separation, of church and state. I suggest, they will be opening a door, that hopefully, will reach all the way, to the Supreme Court. I ask, which religion, is the “right” religion? Are you going to amend the constitution? Will ALL religions have equal protections ?

  • Judy Adkins

    January 26, 2017 at 10:38 am

    Below is a copy of the email I sent to the following people regarding Florida HB 303 and SB 436:

    Representative Kimberly Daniels – House Bill sponsor
    Senator Dennis Baxley – Senate Bill sponsor
    This is concerning House Bill 303 and Senate Bill 436, “Florida Student and School Personnel Religious Liberties Act.”

    We support free speech and religious freedom for everyone, students included. However, after having read the bill, we are concerned about the direct conflict this has with U.S. Code 4071, “Denial of equal access prohibited”, commonly referred to as the Equal Access Act (EAA), as well as the establishment clause of the U.S. constitution and the Florida Constitution, Article 1 Section 3.

    While much of HB 303 and SB 436 agrees with the EAA, the involvement of employees with a student group is in direct conflict. EAA states: “employees or agents of the school or government are present at religious meetings only in a non-participatory capacity;”. These bills, in Paragraph 4(a)1. (b)1. states “A school district may not prevent school personnel from participating in religious activities on school grounds that are initiated by students at reasonable times before or after the school day if such activities are voluntary and do not conflict with the responsibilities or assignments of such personnel.” There is no avoiding the inherently sectarian nature of religious expression. All of it is grounded in differently evolved religious, national, and social traditions. Each religion proclaims its own inerrancy and superiority to all the others. This cannot help but to create disunity, dissension, and strife as it has so often in the past.

    Since HB 303 and SB 436 applies to all schools in a district, how do you propose we protect younger students from being unduly influenced by a teacher? When a scientologist, Satanist, or someone from a cult or “unpopular” religion encourages students to start a club, how does your bill address the potential for abuse of the trust students have placed in that authority figure? It seems all too easy for an employee to “take over” a student organization, whether intentionally or not, simply because of the relationship that students have with a teacher or staff person. Adults are often viewed as guides in many aspects of life. Those adults moved by religious feelings may often be disposed to dispense the “superior” values of their religion in a fully beneficent way in their own view. If the adult in question is a teacher, is this not going to pressure students in their class to feel required to participate in that teacher’s openly professed religion, lest they fear being “penalized” by the teacher for not being part of his/her group?

    The social values and individual virtues promoted by the traditional secular framework of our schools seem wholly adequate to inculcate the necessary attributes to become a valued and worthwhile citizen. The founders of our country seemed to appreciate the fact that religions is mostly a matter of private discretion, and ought not to be the subject of government selection.

    The current federal law seems quite adequate in giving students the rights addressed by this bill, without complicating the matter with employee involvement. Please consider either changing the language of HB 303 and SB 436 to follow the Federal and State constitutions or withdrawing the bill.

Comments are closed.


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