Fulwider 3-6-2012

My Word: Prayer bill a nightmare in the making

Fulwider, Bryan(Orlando Sentinel, March 6, 2012)

By Bryan G. Fulwider

Let me start with what I’m not saying: I’m not against religion, I’m not against prayer, and I’m not against free speech, youthful expression or inspirational messages.

But I believe in the wisdom of the Apostle Paul: Just because something is legal doesn’t mean it’s beneficial. However, in the case of the school-prayer bill, which was passed Thursday, it’s questionable that the statute is even constitutional, let alone beneficial. Rather, it’s an administrative nightmare.

Although the bill never uses the word “prayer,” it’s understood. The bill states: “A … school board may adopt a policy allowing an inspirational message to be delivered by students at a student assembly.” Further, the “students who are responsible for organizing any student-led portion of a student assembly” will decide if there will be an inspirational message and which students will present it.

School-district personnel “may not participate in, or otherwise influence … whether an inspirational message is to be delivered” or “review the content.”

So if a designated student decides that a passage from, let’s say, Song of Solomon would be inspirational, school officials would be breaking the law if they said, “Not a good idea.”

Now consider how such a policy might impact minority faiths and those of no faith; or, how the student organizers would be chosen; or, the risk of religious bullying; or, a host of other complications.

An old sermon illustration tells of a rich man who lived near a precipitous mountain road. Three drivers applied when the wealthy man advertised for a chauffeur. Pointing toward the chasm on one side of the road, the rich man asked, “How close to that edge can you drive safely?”

The first said he could drive safely within six inches of the edge. The second said he could drive safely with half the width of the tire hanging over the edge. The third said he would stay as far from the edge as possible. He got the job.

Unfortunately, Florida’s legislators seem determined to risk millions in tax-payer dollars to defend the lawsuits their bill will inevitably trigger. And there are sure to be divisive battles erupting in many communities and distractions from educating Florida’s students.

And why? Just to see how close they can get to reinstating school prayer without the Supreme Court saying, “No way.”

The Rev. Bryan G. Fulwider is senior minister of First Congregational Church of Winter Park and president of the Interfaith Council of Central Florida.