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Bible study bill: Doomed this year, but expect resurrection

Daniels’ latest religious instruction bill seemingly has died in committee.

A bill that would require every public high school in the state to offer Bible literacy electives looks doomed for the 2019 Legislative Session.

Kim Daniels

The measure (HB 195), sponsored by Jacksonville Democratic state Rep. Kim Daniels, would require high schools — rather than just permit, as is the case now — to offer an “objective study of religion.” Included in that “objective study” are the Old and New Testaments of the Bible.

But it doesn’t appear to be on track for the current Session.

The bill has cleared one committee. But it stalled in the House PreK-12 Appropriations Committee, which the Tampa Bay Times reported met for its last scheduled time this week.

And no one is carrying a Senate companion.

Given Daniels’ recent record of getting similar bills through, one might have expected more traction.

She certainly did when she skipped the first day of the Legislative Session to record spots for the Christian Broadcasting Network‘s news division.

The TV hits were a big deal for Daniels. An aide said, days before the appearances, that Daniels was already “fasting and praying” to prep.

Meantime, opposition mobilized.

The American Civil Liberties Union of Florida was “watching the bill” (though what sway they would have with this Legislature is unknown).

And a professional Hindu activist raised objections that his faith’s holy texts were not part of the suggested curriculum.

Further, state Rep. Anna Eskamani, an Orlando Democrat, was denied a request to add the Qu’ran — the Muslim holy book — to the bill.

But this opposition wouldn’t have been enough to kill the bill.

Daniels had every expectation that this latest proposal would go as smoothly as the previous:

HB 303, the “Florida Student and School Personnel Religious Liberties Act,” passed in 2017. That bans “discriminating … on basis of religious viewpoints or expression” against school staff and employees.

— HB 839, a bill requiring school districts to display Florida’s motto “In God We Trust,” passed in 2018.

Daniels, to be sure, has been an atypical Democrat. An evangelist by trade, her own party has tried and failed to purge her, including with an establishment primary challenge in 2018.

Republican interests came to the rescue: Beer and sugar interests, the GEO Group, Jacksonville developer Peter RummelGary Chartrand and Charter School USA.

Perhaps if the Democrats had planted a Republican or NPA candidate to close the primary, it would have been closer. But Daniels won an open primary going away.

Daniels, who spent four years on the Jacksonville City Council before running for the House in 2016, is not the type to be deterred by a bill dying.

This could be back next Session. And with a real chance that Daniels could vie for Sen. Audrey Gibson‘s spot in the Senate, if she doesn’t get it through in the House, she could push for that priority from her next office.

One caveat: It remains to be seen if Republicans in Tallahassee are becoming somewhat less inclined to throw red meat to the religious right. Daniels’ ability to sell these bills has been predicated on buy-in from Republicans. Without it? These bills die.

But, as with the principle of resurrection itself, there’s always a chance for a comeback.

Written By

A.G. Gancarski has been a working journalist for over two decades. 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 a.g.gancarski@gmail.com.

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