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S.B. 98: The Religious Tolerance Opportunity Bill

It is a truism that almost any sect, cult, or religion will legislate its creed into law if it acquires the political power to do so, and will follow it by suppressing opposition, subverting all education to seize early the minds of the young, and by killing, locking up, or driving underground all heretics. – Robert A. Heinlein

Okay, well it’s probably not as bad as all that, but new legislation colloquially being called the School Prayer bill, goes before Florida Governor Rick Scott this week, after passing 88-27 in the House last week following an hour of apparently vigorous debate.

“I haven’t seen the bill,”  Gov. Scott said recently, “but I believe in Jesus Christ and I believe individuals should have a right to say a prayer.”

Ostensibly, Jesus Christ isn’t the prime motivator here .The bill calls for “inspirational messages” to be given by students and not educators or administrators. Sen. Gary Siplin, the Orlando Democrat behind the bill, says the idea of an “inspirational message” is open to interpretation. “It could be the I Have a Dream speech, the Pledge of Allegiance, a blessing before a luncheon,” he told the Miami Herald. “It could also be a prayer.”

So let’s interpret. A review of the text of the bill, SB 98,  indeed authorizes district school boards, “to adopt resolutions that allow prayers  of invocation or benediction at secondary school  events.”

Specifically, the bill allows any district school board to adopt a resolution allowing “ the use of an inspirational message, including prayers of invocation or benediction, at secondary school commencement exercises or any other noncompulsory student assembly. The resolution must provide that:

  • The use of a prayer of invocation or benediction is at the discretion of the student government.
  • All prayers of invocation or benediction will be given  by student volunteers.
  • All prayers of invocation or benediction will be nonsectarian and nonproselytizing in nature.
  • School personnel may not participate in, or otherwise influence any student in, the determination of whether to use prayers of invocation or benediction.

The purpose of this apparently crucial piece of legislation, being considered shoulder to shoulder with issues of health care , education, immigration, and energy, is to “provide for the solemnization and memorialization of secondary school events and ceremonies” but the bill text assures us, “this act is not intended to advance or endorse any religion or religious belief.”

Well, okay then. Game on!  This might be a really good thing. Given the stated intent to memorialize and solemnize…what?… Pep rallies? School plays? Concerts? Sporting events? And if, as the Governor rightly asserts, “individuals should have a right to say a prayer,” then how about, in addition to Christianity, our youth get a chance to hear and share everyone’s thoughts and prayers – Jewish, Buddhist, Hindu, Muslim, Toaist, Wiccan,  and other faiths, as well as inspiring secular messages before kick off?

It’s not a “school prayer bill.” It’s a “Religious Tolerance Opportunity Bill”!  At least it could be if we rise to the occasion.

How about a little Buddhist inspiration?

The Enlightened One was pretty inspiring: “Let us rise up and be thankful; for if we didn’t learn a lot today, at least we learned a little, and if we didn’t learn a little, at least we didn’t get sick, and if we got sick, at least we didn’t die; so, let us all be thankful.

And this wonderful mantra:

If it is not truthful and not helpful, don’t say it.
If it is truthful and not helpful, don’t say it.
If it is not truthful and helpful, don’t say it.
If it is truthful and helpful, wait for the right time.

Or – one my favorites, “Do not believe in anything simply because you have heard it. Do not believe in anything simply because it is spoken and rumored by many. Do not believe in anything simply because it is found written in your religious books. Do not believe in anything merely on the authority of your teachers and elders. Do not believe in traditions because they have been handed down for many generations. But after observation and analysis, when you find that anything agrees with reason and is conducive to the good and benefit of one and all, then accept it and live up to it.

Islam offers some thoughtful considerations.

O ye who believe! Do not squander one another’s wealth in vanities, but let there be amongst you traffic and trade by mutual good will. The Holy Quran, 4:29.

“Do not be people without minds of your own, saying that if others treat you well you will treat them well and that if they do wrong you will do wrong. But (instead) accustom yourselves to do good if people do good and not to do wrong if they do evil.”
Prophet Muhammad (s) as reported in Al-Tirmidhi, Hadith 1325.

A strong person is not the person who throws his adversaries to the ground. A strong person is the one who contains himself when he is angry. Prophet Muhammad

I can see those getting a track meet going!

How about some Hindu reflections?

“We meditate on the transcendental glory of the Deity Supreme,
who is inside the heart of the earth,
inside the life of the sky,
and inside the soul of the heaven.
May He stimulate and illumine our minds. ” -The Gayatri Mantra

Or, maybe right before a football game, “ Non-violence is the greatest force at the disposal of mankind. It is mightier than the mightiest weapon of destruction devised by the ingenuity of man.” Mahatma Gandhi

Or “ The supreme Reality stands revealed in the consciousness of those who have conquered themselves. They live in peace, alike in cold and heat, pleasure and pain, praise and blame.” Bhagavad Gita 6:7

Judaism is full of powerful reflections on the human condition.

A human being must either climb up or climb down.-Talmud Erubin 21a

For I desire kindness, not sacrifice.-Hosea 6:6, speaking in the name of God

This is what the Holy One said to Israel: My children, what do I seek from you? I seek no more than that you love one another and honor one another. –-Tanna d’Bai Eliyahu, medieval rabbinic work

God does not predetermine whether a man shall be righteous or wicked; that He leaves to man himself.--Tanhuma, Pikkude

Taoism offers some great thought before an event:

A Clear mind comes from the wonderful fundamental essence given us by nature and is not a personal possession. Impartiality beyond any specific culture fosters clarity and deeper seeing. It is not hard to produce wisdom… what is hard is to have wisdom not interrupted. (From Clear Mind)

If you want to nourish a bird, you should let it live any way it chooses. Creatures differ because they have different likes and dislikes. Therefore the sages never require the same ability from all creatures. . . concepts of right should be founded on what is suitable. The true saint leaves wisdom to the ants, takes a cue from the fishes, and leaves willfulness to the sheep. (Chuang-tzu .

So maybe our kids can put this legislative boondoggle to better use than its sponsors intended, and use the opportunity of legalized inspirational messaging to build more tolerant schools and communities.  That’s certainly something worth praying for.


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