CLASS DISMISSED: Prayer makes its way into the pep rally

By: Jasmyn Elliott/Columnist

On March 23, State Bill 98 was quietly signed into law by our very own Gov. Rick Scott, which will allow students to give “inspirational messages” during school assemblies as of July 1.
This includes leading classmates in prayer. Teachers, however, are still not allowed to do so.
As a Christian, I should be excited about this. I should be glad that students finally have a safe forum to share their beliefs with their peers en masse.
Admittedly, I am cautiously optimistic at best.

Jasmyn Elliott / Columnist

Jasmyn Elliott / Columnist

This law could indeed be great for students who wish to proselytize and serve as a great step forward for religious freedom and expression. However, I cannot ignore the risk this may pose for students that don’t share the religious beliefs of the majority.
To be more specific, I am not confident that a student who wants to share a passage from the Quran or the Bhagavad Gita will be as welcome as their peer who wants to share a passage from 1 Corinthians.
As for non-believers, this law poses a threat to their rights too. Our First Amendment doesn’t just give all of us freedom to practice any religion; it also gives us freedom from practicing religion. Therefore, these students may also become marginalized, even targeted for their lack of faith.
At the very the least, they will be forced into a highly uncomfortable position should the overwhelming majority of their peers bow their heads in prayer during a required school assembly.
Granted, if any student – or teacher, for that matter – doesn’t want to take part in an assembly where spiritual content is included, they reserve the right to simply walk out.
However, in my experience, it isn’t that easy. In high school, I was subjected to a mandatory “surprise assembly” in which there was religious content that I didn’t agree with at the time.
In theory, I could have simply walked out.
In reality, I was, ironically enough, seated in the front row. Meanwhile, security guards who had a history of not even permitting bathroom breaks during similar student gatherings flanked the doors of the auditorium, thus making a clean exit highly unlikely, if not impossible.
Later in class, even my teacher expressed her displeasure, stating that had she known about what the assembly entailed, she would have abstained from attending while still allowing interested students to go.
We would have appreciated it if we were given a choice to stay behind and remove ourselves from this uncomfortable situation.
Likewise, if a student is to deliver a religiously-charged message under the protection of this law, then students and teachers should be notified beforehand so students can choose to attend rather than being blind-sided as we were.
I am all for freedom of religion and religious expression. In fact, I encourage it. However, if this law is going to be of any benefit, schools must honor all sides by allowing freedom for both the devout and the devoid.
Just as these students now have a right to share their message, other students should maintain their right to not listen. In theory, this law is right in lines with our principles; now, let’s see if these principles are either upheld or challenged in practice.

“Class Dismissed” is a weekly column critiquing education in America. Email

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