Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Whew! No school prayer in Collier County Public Schools

Did you know that the Florida Legislature passed a law in its 2012 session to permit prayer in our public schools?  As summarized in the Sun-Sentinel last February:
The bill ... permit(s) individual school boards to adopt standards for how and when students in public schools could lead public prayer at school events, even mandatory events like student assemblies. The prayer would have to be initiated and delivered by students, with no involvement by faculty or staff. 
(Bill sponsor Sen. Gary Siplin, D-Orlando)’s original bill had been limited to non-compulsory events like school dances and extracurricular activities at secondary schools. But ... the Senate adopted an amendment permitting student-run prayer at all events in all grades.
Groups like the Anti-Defamation League and American Civil Liberties Union have lobbied against the bill, calling it unconstitutional and predicting any school board adopting such policies would be sued. ... 
As bad as I think the law is, I’m relieved to know we don’t have to worry about it in Collier County.  Our School Board decided to opt out.  In a statement referred to in the Naples Daily News on Sunday (“New state laws: Collier schools pass on allowing student-led prayer law”), Superintendent Kamela Patton said:
The legislation is permissive. That means that districts are free to choose whether they want to adopt a policy whose language must track the language of the Bill. Based on our review, our policies and prevailing First Amendment law provide students with the appropriate means and protections for freedom of religious expression. Finally, based on our review as well, adopting such a policy could embroil the District in a constitutional challenge and related litigation which would not be in the District's best interests especially at this time when we have more pressing issues to be focused on such as academic accountability and District finances. (No online citation; statement provided to me by the District.) 
This is just one more example of how elections have consequences.  With a different School Board – like the one we had several years ago – a different decision could easily have been reached.

Community input and feedback are important to elected officials.  If you have an opinion about this Board’s decision, I encourage you to let them know.  You can email them here.


  1. The one thing I think schools could do is teach religious studies but not on a devotional basis. Professor Stephen Prothero, who teaches Religious Studies at Boston University, is a big proponent of this. He says that unfortunately he gets students in his first year class who have no knowledge of the bible (or of the other 7 main world religions), such that they tend to fail his entry quiz. In fact, I remember Professor Northrop Frye at the University of Toronto had the same issue years ago for one of his English classes, that required a decent knowledge of the Bible. Our society is full of references and allusions to our Judeo / Christian heritage, so kids should learn something about this in order to have an understanding of this stuff. They should learn about the other 7 main religions too, since we live in a democracy with people from those backgrounds. Enlightenment would likely lead to less prejudice in our society.

    In the public school system, of course I agree, religion should not be taught for devotional reasons.

  2. I certainly agree ... but comparative religion wouldn't be the first "new" thing I'd like to see our schools add to the current teaching load. Civics would be at the top of my list. Currently there's a little bit taught in Florida's Middle School, but as you undoubtedly know, our citizens are woefully ignorant of the basics about our government.

    I was appalled the other day to watch a TV news anchor doing person-on-the-street interviews with questions like, "Who heads up the Executive Branch of our government" and "What are two of the things all people are entitled to, according to the Declaration of Independence," and the MAJORITY of the people asked had no clue.

    So I guess for now, I can only be grateful when our School Board isn't making things any WORSE.