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Friday, March 23, 2012

Many religious leaders against Florida's school prayer bill

From the Tampa bay Times, by John Romano

The better part of his life has been devoted to religion.

For more than 30 years, Dr. Harold Brockus was the Presbyterian pastor at the Good Samaritan Church in Pinellas Park. Sermons, missions, prayers. Everything you would expect from a place of worship and a man of God.

So when a school prayer bill landed on Gov. Rick Scott's desk this month, Rev. Brockus understandably had reason to care. Enough reason to put his name on a letter imploring the governor to do the right thing with this proposed law.

Don't sign it.

For the love of prayer, don't sign it.

Rev. Brockus jointly authored a letter with a Baptist minister and a rabbi to oppose this bill (SB 98) that would allow students to offer "inspirational messages'' at public school functions.

And, yes, you are reading that correctly.

Members of the Senate and the House — these would be your guardians of the government — think it's a fine idea to mix in a little church with state business.

Meanwhile, these three men of faith — the experts in the application of prayer — have been forced to argue against the blurring of religious and government lines.

"The separation of church and state is an American creation,'' Rev. Brockus said. "It's been good for the country, it's been good for the religious community … to keep the two separate."

Why would religious leaders fight a law promoting prayer? Mostly because they're worried the law would have the opposite impact of its supposed intention.

If, for instance, a group of students wanted to promote Catholicism, how would that play among Baptists? Or how would Jewish students feel about an "inspirational message'' in the form of a Muslim prayer?

"It's not an issue of religious freedom for students except in the sense of students being free of the religious views of others,'' Rev. Brockus said.

Even if you move beyond the endless argument of a separation of church and state, there is the simple question of why this law is necessary.

Is prayer currently banned in schools? Absolutely not. Students are free to pray privately throughout the day.

They're also free to pray in their churches or synagogues or mosques. They are free to pray in their homes. They are free to pray at malls, if you want to take it that far.

Adding a law to the books that makes public prayer permissible at school events is simply inviting trouble on campuses and in courtrooms.

For you can bet it will face legal challenges. And that means school districts will be wasting money on lawyers instead of education.

I'm not sure Gov. Scott wants to explain how that is fiscally responsible.

"This bill is a solution in search of a problem,'' the ministers and rabbi wrote in their letter to Gov. Scott. "Forcing prayer upon public-school students not only violates the rights of those students, it also demeans the spiritual significance of religious belief.''

In the end, this isn't really a bill about prayer.

It is a way for legislators to pander to voters who may not fully understand the legal, financial and constitutional ramifications of this proposed law.

Prayer is not a government issue. And it shouldn't be a political ploy.

John Romano can be reached at

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