On Tuesday evening, the Tallahassee Democrat reported on a Florida Senate bill SB 436 that would allow Florida public school students greater religious freedom. For example, it explicitly allows them to wear religious clothing or jewelry, to express their beliefs as part of their school assignments, and to engage in religious activity during the school day. Introduced by State Senator Dennis Baxley, R-Lady Lake, the bill promises to “let freedom ring” in public schools.
However, the bill has faced some criticism for its expansive definition of “religious” and for its refusal to set boundaries on students’ expression. In the first place, opponents worry that the lack of definition of “religious” and “religion” will allow students to express hate speech or other offensive views. In addition, the bill sets no explicit limits on students’ expression of their religiosity, and other senators worry that it will protect students who are disrespectful or disruptive to teachers who present material they disagree with on religious grounds. Brandon Haught, a high school biology teacher, said that the bill would have “chilling effects” on science teachers presenting material on evolution. Despite his concerns, the bill passed the judiciary commission Tuesday night with a 5-4 vote, and it now moves forward to general debate on the Senate floor.