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Fast start for prayer bill

Today is the third day of the 60-day session.

By STEVE BOUSQUET, Times Staff Writer
© St. Petersburg Times
published March 6, 2003

The House Judiciary Committee voted 13-5 Wednesday for a bill allowing voluntary prayer at graduations and high school assemblies.

The rapid movement on the measure in the session's second day showed its strong support in the overwhelmingly Republican House. The proposal failed last year because the Senate refused to take it up, and a similar result is likely this session.

The measure (HB 243), sponsored by Rep. Wilbert "Tee" Holloway, D-Miami, lets school boards allow invocations or benedictions "at the discretion of the students" and led by a student. They must be "nonsectarian and nonproselytizing in nature."

Lobbyists for the American Civil Liberties Union and the Florida Association of Jewish Federations said the bill would infringe on the rights of religious minorities.

"Prayer should be about uniting people, not dividing people," said the ACLU's Larry Spalding.

Freshman Rep. Juan-Carlos Planas, R-Miami, voted for the bill. "I don't like the fact that all of a sudden, when we say that it's not such a bad thing to pray, it's seen as an attack. It's not. This country has a very deep religious tradition," he said.

Rep. John Carassas, R-Belleair, also voted for the bill, which now goes to the full House.

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