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'Religious liberties' measures diverge, but advance

Religious liberties

@ByKristenMClark & @loujacobson

Efforts by the Legislature to make explicitly clear the rights students and teachers have to express their religious beliefs in Florida public schools is ready for a floor vote in the Senate, while earning high praise in an initial House hearing.

A fast-tracked measure in the Senate (SB 436) — one of President Joe Negron’s top priorities — passed its second and final committee Tuesday on a party-line vote, shortly before a House panel unanimously advanced its own version (HB 303).

The House conversation was in stark contrast to the Senate’s discussions, where that chamber’s measure has polarized members.

MORE: “Lawmakers push for more ‘religious liberties’ in Florida public schools”

The bills were once identical, but the House Pre-K-12 Quality Subcommittee amended its bill to make it more narrow than the Senate’s — removing some of the more controversial elements, such as a requirement that school districts adopt a Florida Department of Education-crafted policy that “establishes a limited public forum for student speakers at any school event.” Such a provision would allow students of different faiths to, for example, pray at school assemblies.

The House’s pared-down bill won bipartisan support and near-universal endorsement from a crowded audience. When the House committee ended its meeting after passing the bill unanimously, one audience member shouted out: “Can we close with a prayer?” The remark drew scattered applause.

Lithia Republican Jake Raburn, the House Pre-K-12 Quality Subcommittee chairman, called it “a bit perplexing that we have to be here when these protections are provided for.”

Read more.

Photo credit: Sen. Dennis Baxley, R-Ocala, presents his “religious liberties” bill to the Senate Judiciary Committee on Tuesday, March 14, 2017. The panel sent it to the Senate floor on a 5-4 vote, with Democrats opposed. Louis Jacobson / PolitiFact