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Praying for a win: Florida bill would OK it in school sports

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TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – Florida schools competing for a high school athletic championship could be given an opportunity to address the crowd, including with a prayer, before the competition begins, under a bill approved by a House committee Wednesday.

The bill would require the Florida High School Athletic Association to give each team an opportunity to address the crowd over a public announcement system for no more than two minutes each. It would apply to public and private schools, and Republican Rep. Webster Barnaby said that could include prayer.

“I recall the first day that when all of us sat in that House, we opened the House of Representatives with what?” Barnaby said. “Prayer. No one objected to the prayer that was said in the House of Representatives. If it's good enough for us as representatives it ought to be good enough for our children.”

The House Secondary Education & Career Development Subcommittee voted 13-4 for the bill. The Democrats opposing it raised concerns that there was no control over the schools' messages and that if it did include prayer, there could be students who are of different faiths competing. They said students might also deliver negative messages about rival teams that go too far.

Democratic Rep. Susan Valdes, a former Hillsborough County School Board member, said even at graduations, students sometimes veer away from their approved speeches.

“I'm concerned that maybe these freedoms might be taken to a different level and create a problem,” she said. “The intent of the bill, I get it. I'm concerned more about the practicality and the processes of how these policies would be taken into effect.”

Republican Rep. Clay Yarborough, a co-sponsor of the bill, said it was filed because several years ago two Christian schools faced each other in a football championship game were told by the state athletic association that they couldn't deliver a prayer to the crowd before the game.

Under the bill language, the association “may not control, monitor, or review the content of the opening remarks and may not control the school's choice of speaker.”

The bill has one more House committee stop. A similar Senate bill hasn’t had its first hearing.