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Fla. House Passes School Prayer Bill

October 25, 2001

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TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (AP) _ The state House passed a bill Wednesday letting school districts allow volunteer student prayer at graduations and other non-required student assemblies.

Members who voted against the bill said it went beyond the purpose of the current special session: To eliminate a $1.3 billion budget shortfall.

But the bill’s sponsor, Democratic Rep. Wilbert ``Tee″ Holloway, said that in the wake of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks and a call from President Bush for prayer, there was no better time.

``This is a time when all people in our nation should be called to prayer,″ Holloway said.

With no set date for consideration, the bill now goes to the Senate, which must consider the measure before the special session expires Nov. 1. A similar bill passed the House in the regular legislative session earlier this year but never passed the Senate.

If passed, the bill wouldn’t take effect until July 1, 2002, after next year’s high school graduations. Gov. Jeb Bush has not said whether he supports the measure.

Opponents also said the bill is unconstitutional and unfair to students who may not share the religious beliefs of students offering the prayers.

Five years ago, the Legislature passed a school-prayer bill, which was vetoed by then-Gov. Lawton Chiles.

The U.S. Supreme Court ruled last year that public schools can’t let students lead stadium crowds in prayer because it amounted to government backing of religion.

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