Education panel backs religious expression bill


With the bill sponsor saying school administrators need "clarity," the Senate Education Committee on Monday approved a measure dealing with a series of issues about religious expression in public schools.

The committee voted 5-2 to approve the bill (SB 436), sponsored by Sen. Dennis Baxley, R-Ocala.

Dubbed the "Florida Student and School Personnel Religious Liberties Act," the bill, in part, would require the state Department of Education to develop a model policy that each school district would be required to adopt.

That policy would deal with issues such as voluntary expression of religious viewpoints by students and school employees.

Baxley, backed by some Christian groups, said a "chilling effect" has occurred on religious expression in schools and said districts and administrators need direction about how to handle the issues.

"They need clarity," he said. "They don't have clarity."

But groups such as the Anti-Defamation League raised concerns about the bill. Sen. Gary Farmer, a Fort Lauderdale Democrat who joined Sen. Linda Stewart, D-Orlando, in voting against the measure, raised the possibility of a "coercive effect" on students who do not have the same religious faiths as children who discuss beliefs at school events.