In 1956 I was a 7th-grade student at Public School 29 in New York City and we began every day with a prayer from the New Testament read by our teacher who happened to be a communicant at the Catholic parish across the street. When I refused to fold my hands and bow my head because my family read the Old Testament at home, the teacher made me stand out in the hallway until the prayer was done.
It’s now more than 50 years since the Supreme Court ruled that public-school officials could not organize prayer services, but many states and localities get around the religion issue by letting the students lead the prayers. Last week the Florida Senate approved a bill (SB 436) that requires all school districts to allow for ‘voluntary’ expressions of religious belief on school property, which basically protects public prayer in the classroom, but does not contain any protections for students who choose not to participate, such as the way I behaved back in 1956.
The bill got a big play last week because it was passed as part of an agreement to pass another bill, SB 128, which makes it easier for Florida residents to use a ‘stand your ground’ defense if they happen to shoot someone besides themselves. This bill basically puts the burden of proof on the prosecution from the moment a defendant appears in Court, which means that if the State isn’t ready to present all relevant evidence at an initial, pre-trial hearing, the guy who did the shooting walks free.
Every Republican in the Florida State Senate voted for the change in SYG, ditto for what is being called a ‘stand for liberty’ by the sponsor of the religious ‘freedom’ bill. This State Senator, Dennis Baxley, represents the 12th District, which covers Marion, Sumter and Lake Counties and delivered between 60% and 70% of their 2016 Presidential votes to our temporary 45th President, a.k.a. Donald Trump. Baxley’s website says he understands that “family, freedom and faith must all flourish to keep our state and nation strong.” Is he endorsed by the NRA? Is New York a city? I mean, family, faith and freedom – give me a break.