When Even Liberty Counsel is Against Your School Prayer Bill, You're Doing Something Wrong

You know who you pretty much never, ever, ever see come down on the same side of an issue?  The ACLU and Matt Staver's Liberty Counsel, one of the major conservative/Christian law firms that is often seen involving itself in gay rights and abortion issues.

And yet here they are, both aligned on the "please don't do this" side of a Florida bill designed to allow prayer in schools, even at mandatory events.  Admittedly, for different reasons - Liberty Counsel is taking the pragmatic approach of "You do realize you're going to get sued the instant this is implemented, right?  And you're probably going to lose," while the ACLU is taking the ideological approach of "This is just a shitty idea, remember that whole church/state issue?"  But it's still pretty funny to see Liberty Counsel agreeing with the ACLU on anything, no matter the reason.

The text of the bill (PDF) shows that legislators are trying to work it around to be Constitutionally-defensible from a "student's rights" angle.  It specifically permits students only to "deliver an inspirational message" during any student-run section of any school event, and specifically disallows school faculty from being involved in the determination to give a message, choice of student to give the message, or the content of the message.  It's the same tactic that has been tried in cases over graduation prayers - if the prayer is delivered by the student, does that make it not a state-sponsored or -endorsed message, even if it's happening at a state-sponsored event like graduation?  What about the individual student's First Amendment rights to free speech?  The answer from the courts has been mixed - it's been said for certain that school officials cannot choose a student specifically to give a religious message, although a student chosen to speak for other reasons (like a valedictorian, chosen for their GPA) may, in some jurisdictions, include religious content in their speech, so long as it's non-proselytizing or non-sectarian in nature (and rulings on that restriction vary by jurisdiction as well).  When the courts consider cases like this, another highly relevant factor is whether it's taking place at a mandatory or optional event.

Since this bill doesn't specify, which leaves the door open to prayers at student-run parts of mandatory events, it leaves them wide open for lawsuits about proselytizing in schools.  Even if it's students choosing to give public prayers, and students doing the speaking, if it's done at a mandatory event like, say, an elementary school assembly, it's not okay.

And when even the Liberty Counsel and also the Florida Family Council (a Focus on Your Own Damn Family affiliate) recognize that this shit won't fly, it's time to put down the Bible and back away from the education bills.  And preferably retire from lawmaking entirely.  Although that part is probably just me.


itchbay said...

I would love to see a bill mandating a rotating prayer schedule for events:

week 1: Christian
week 2: Jewish
week 3: Muslim
week 4: Hindu
week 5: Buddist
week 6: Wiccan

Actually, I wouldn't really love it, but I would love to watch all these school prayer people back pedal.

Jadelyn said...

Which just makes me think of this, lol.

CaitieCat said...

OMG, the comments are SO GROSS on that pic.  :/

Jadelyn said...


I uh...wow.  I always forget Flickr has comments so I didn't even look that far down the page.  Fuck.


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