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Religion Page Blocks Florida Education Bill

April 06, 2002|From Associated Press

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — A special legislative session called by Gov. Jeb Bush to pass a sweeping education measure ended in chaos Friday over a provision allowing students to pray and speak about religion in schools.

An angry Bush said he would call lawmakers back to Tallahassee next week to try again.

The fight erupted in the Senate, which refused for the second time in two weeks to pass the bill that would rewrite the school code, because of the religion provision.

"It's one page out of an 1,800-page document," said the Republican governor, who supports the provision.

Senate Democrats opposed the provision and some Senate Republicans joined them.

"The opposition spread like wildfire," said Senate President John McKay, a Republican.

The House already had approved the bill, worked on for months by the Florida Board of Education and legislative staffers. It reflects changes made to education in the last three years, such as creation of a board to oversee public schools, community colleges and state universities.

The religion provision would give students the right to pray, express their religious beliefs in homework, distribute religious literature and speak to other students about religion.

Those are constitutional rights students already enjoy. The provision is based on guidelines that the American Jewish Congress, the American Civil Liberties Union and the Anti-Defamation League have prepared to help school administrators across the country understand what courts have said can be done in schools.

Some senators voiced concern about the effect of the language.

"We could have the church of devil worship or we could have the church of witchcraft or we could have the church of the Taliban," said Sen. Ginny Brown-Waite, a Republican.

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