Republican senators sat aghast Tuesday as Pace High School Principal Frank Lay described the religious ban at his public school in the Florida Panhandle.
"They stopped wearing crosses," he said of the faculty. "They put their Bibles away."
Sen. Stephen Wise, R-Jacksonville, urged action. "We can lose our freedoms in America very fast," he warned.
Beset by tales of sectarian conflict and censored teachers, Republican legislators are behind several efforts to expand religion's role in the education system this legislative session.
Under a measure sponsored by Wise, teachers would be allowed to pray with children, behavior long frowned upon by opponents who say mixing faith and public schools marginalizes minority students.
The legislation passed unanimously Tuesday in the Senate's Education PreK-12 committee, with proponents defending it as a necessary protection of free speech. Versions of the bill (SB1580/HB31) have sailed through other committees in both the Senate and House.
Republican lawmakers are also behind a measure that would repeal the state's century-old ban on funneling public dollars to religious groups. The proposed constitutional amendment could greatly expand Florida's controversial private school voucher program.
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