That’s right, join me in picking your face up off the floor: the ACLU and Liberty Counsel actually agree about something. Not that the sky is blue or that water is wet. They agree that the school prayer bill (SB 98) sponsored by Sen. Gary Siplin (D-Orlando) is not worth the court fight.
This page had addressed Sen. Siplin’s ridiculous waste of a bill in a recent post. This comment from that post about sums it up:
[SB 98] is wrong-headed, inept, unnecessary, and doomed to legal oblivion.
Bear in mind, Liberty Counsel sustains itself by taking loser cases just like this – church vs. state cases – and billing their clients liberally, usually right-wing led governing bodies who are convinced that the Constitution is unconstitutional and are willing to spend taxpayer dollars to prove that they are complete imbeciles. SB 98 would have given a truckload of business to Liberty Counsel since each school district would need to litigate its own rules. In legalese, that would mean: cha-ching!
The only reason for Liberty Counsel to not endorse a bill like this is that it couldn’t make any decent billings. In short, they knew they couldn’t even put together a prima facie case, i.e. one that would survive a raised eyebrow in court. Wasting a judge’s time isn’t a smart move and could backfire badly. This law would be a total waste of time.
“I’m an advocate of student speech,” said Mat Staver, founder of [Liberty Counsel - pictured left]. “But this bill will run into constitutional problems and I don’t think it’s right to make school districts litigate this issue again — and they will have to.”
That phrase “constitutional problems” is a bit telling. Since Liberty Counsel’s line of work is “constitutional problems,” that’s like Winnie the Pooh turning down a jar of honey because it is too sweet. It is an indication of just how hopeless this proposal is.
But you also need to realize that this bill isn’t dead yet. No, no. Passions have been aroused and the righteous are unlikely to retreat just because of common sense. Oh, no.
There has been plenty of discussion in the House since the Senate already passed this 31-8. It’s been led by the Rev. Rep. Charlie Van Zant (R-Keystone – pictured left), the right wing nutty quote machine and Southern Baptist pastor whose district includes eastern Marion from the Forest to Stonecrest in Summerfield. This is right up Van Zant’s alley.
In fact, Van Zant, who is also a school board member in Clay County, is already embroiled in a school board lawsuit over prayer policy (no more flagpole prayers) with Liberty Counsel at his side (surprise, surprise). Van Zant is the perfect advocate for this law.
The House Education Committee discussion turned to what constituted an “inspirational message” which is literally what the bill would allow. It also demanded (demanded!) no adult oversight by any school official. What could possibly go wrong?
“What this bill does is open the possibility of messages of hate,” [Rep. Dwight] Bullard [D-Miami] argued. “We are not living in a post-racial society.”
Bullard is an African American and a teacher as well as ranking Democratic committee member.
Van Zant objected as the discussion continued to raise the possibility of racist commentary qualifying as an “inspirational message.”
Van Zant dismissed their concerns and told them to “get away” from saying “African-American … African-American … African-American.” [He said,] “We are all Americans.”
Thank you for another memorable quote, Rep. Van Zant. (No, Van Zant is not an African American, just in case you were wondering. He is an American to the best of our knowledge.) But he was on a roll; here’s another:
“Schools have been restricted from free speech,” Van Zant said …”We need to open up the schools to free speech so that students can say what’s on their minds, without censorship from the administration.”
Another noteworthy remark came from the representative who believes teachers should issue grades for parents, and sponsored a bill to implement it as law in Florida. Yes, you read that right: teachers grading parents.
But supporters of the proposal ridiculed opponents as effectively battling First Amendment freedoms. “What scares me the most is those who think we need to direct what students think,” said Rep. Kelli Stargel, R-Lakeland.
In some circles, that wacky idea of “directing what students think” is part of what’s called “teaching,” part of a process known as “learning.” Of course, you would have to believe that students didn’t come with wisdom built-in, just like parenting is not a built-in skill, nor is teaching a built-in human characteristic, but a profession. Rep. Stargel is full of unusual ideas, but let’s wrap this up.
CS/SB 98 bill passed the House Education Committee 9-6, despite all of the above. It is now with the House Judiciary Committee. Maybe it will mercifully die there. Let’s pray for its demise, shall we?