The very first thing that is obvious about the “inspirational messages” bill which the Legislature has overwhelmingly passed and now awaits Gov. Rick Scott’s signature is that while it is an important effort, it fails to achieve a greater potential. The sponsors of the bill, including Sen.
Gary Siplin, an Orlando Democrat and former Miami resident, clearly talk about their intent to introduce prayer in schools but they did not write that proposition into the draft law. As it stands, the law would empower Florida’s 67 school districts to make the call – effectively passing the buck, especially since lawmakers rejected another bill, this one from opponents, that would have required the state to pay legal costs for any lawsuits the districts may face if they act on the law.
The lawmakers cleverly tried to avoid the U.S. Constitution’s First Amendment restrictions by moving teachers and school administrators out of the way of children who wish to pray or provide words of inspiration. Only time will tell us whether they were successful. Legislation that challenges the Constitution, as interpreted by the U.S. Supreme Court, must be reserved for causes that are so significant that the potential reward is worth the risk of lawsuits and more. Uttering “inspirational messages” and potentially allowing prayers in school, once all faiths are included, is certainly worth the risk.
There are obstacles facing students, especially African-American children, that are directly related to the absence of a moral underpinning in their lives. There are timeless messages in all major religions that provide a basis for dealing with such problems. More importantly, spiritually based principles such as love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control are timeless and are embraced by all religions.
Schools must place emphasis – or more emphasis – on education that has such a moral underpinning through texts, classroom activities and extracurricular activities that remind boys and girls of the eternal truths, such as respecting all people, eschewing violence, especially the violence of the gun, and committing to a life that is one of service. But, of course, the educators are too busy trying to satisfy the draconian demands of the FCAT and other mandates to do much else.
While the Legislature’s action on the bill is praiseworthy, their other failures are not. Politicians elected to office, especially during this period of severe difficulties, are not spending enough time on alleviating the hardships that families face.
The Legislative session is ending with nothing much accomplished in the way of helping families – who include boys and girls going to school – stay in their homes. Nothing much was accomplished in creating jobs. Nothing much was accomplished in helping the medically uninsured get health insurance. And so on.
Of course, when politicians in office fail to come back home with accomplishments in those areas – homes, jobs, health insurance and others – they do the next best thing. They cloak their failure in the flag, hide it behind the Bible and hearken back to the good old days when all was well and everybody knew their places.
It is way past time for the games to end and for elected officials to do the job of making Florida a better place for all of us.