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    House passes school prayer bill

    When the House passed similar legislation in the spring and fall, the Senate never took it up.

    By ALISA ULFERTS, Times Staff Writer
    © St. Petersburg Times
    published February 13, 2002

    TALLAHASSEE -- The state House overwhelmingly approved a bill Tuesday that would allow student-led prayer at some school events, despite warnings from opponents that it could exclude religious minorities.

    The bill, which allows school boards to adopt resolutions approving prayer at nonmandatory assemblies, has a sponsor in the Senate but historically hasn't had much luck there.

    House members passed a version of this bill in the spring and during the first special session in October, but the Senate didn't take it up.

    Bill sponsor Rep. Wilbert Holloway said the aftermath of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks is the right time to encourage students to pray.

    "The act is not intended to advance or endorse any religion or religious belief," said Holloway, D-Miami.

    The bill would allow school districts to let high school students hold invocations, benedictions and other inspirational messages at graduation and other events.

    Opponents of the bill said the attacks represented the height of religious intolerance and urged House members to vote against the bill.

    Rep. Mark Weissman, D-Parkland, criticized the "Taliban rhetoric" of bill supporters and said they were trying "to force your religion on my children."

    Duval County, which includes Jacksonville, has a policy allowing student-led prayers. That policy has been upheld in the federal courts as constitutional.

    Gov. Jeb Bush said Tuesday he hasn't had time to review the legislation but questioned whether it was needed in light of the Jacksonville ruling.

    "I'm not sure what the difference here is compared to what already exists and I'm not sure we need to pass laws if it's already allowed," he said.

    - Information from the Associated Press was used in this report.

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