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Bills calling for greater protection of religious expression in Florida schools advance

While much of the dialogue in Tallahassee concerning education has revolved around issues like reform of the state's standardized testing process and, of course, funding, lawmakers have been considering other issues that are decidedly more controversial.

By way of example, consider the so-called "religious liberties" bills making their way through each chamber, which, if passed, would permit greater expression of spiritual beliefs in Florida's public school system.

Both Senate Bill 436, sponsored by Sen. Dennis Baxley (R-Ocala), and House Bill 303, sponsored by Rep. Kimberly Daniels (D-Jacksonville), call for students and teachers alike to be granted the right to wear jewelry with religious significance, participate in student-sponsored religious groups before, during and after the school day, and express their beliefs in "written and oral assignments."

Where SB 436 differs, however, is that it would also mandate that school districts implement policies permitting the creation of "limited public forums" enabling students to pray at school-sanctioned events, including assemblies and sporting events.

Supporters of the measure argue that the measure is necessary to protect religious expression for people of all faiths, while opponents have argued the measure is unnecessary given the protections under both the Florida and U.S. constitutions, and could actually work to foster discrimination.

The bills, which were fast-tracked through legislative committees, appear to have the votes to pass in their respective chambers. However, it's worth noting that in order for a bill to be sent to Governor Rick Scott, both the Senate and House must pass identical bills. This would suggest that the matter is far from settled.

Stay tuned for updates …

If you are a parent or teacher with questions or concerns relating to an education law matter, consider speaking with an experienced legal professional who can provide the necessary answers and pursue solutions.

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