From Expression to DEPRESSION

While the old cliché “hard cases make bad law” is true, it’s also quaint. There are easier ways to make bad law.

For a good illustrative example, put down this magazine, put on your binoculars, and cast your gaze to our west, where bad law emerges on the regular.

Everyone has their favorite examples. Some would pick the half-dozen separate bills designed to “implement” Amendment 2, on which 71 percent of Floridians voted yes, in what legislators are now seeking to ensure is a doomed attempt to force them to create a meaningful medical cannabis program.

Others, including many reading this, would pick the “Religious Expression in Public Schools” bill (HB 303/SB 436).

The bill is carried on the House side by Duval Democrat Kim Daniels, who is walking it through committees to a rapturous reception. On the Senate side, where it was carried by Ocala Republican Dennis Baxley, the bill has already passed, with Baxley saying it was a way to “let freedom ring.”

Sounds great, right? Who can argue with freedom?

The “Florida Student and School Personnel Religious Liberties Act” bars school districts “from discriminating against students, parents, and school personnel on basis of religious viewpoints or expression.” “Religious expression”—a phrase that covers a lot of ground—will be permitted, once this bill becomes law, at school-sponsored events as part of a “limited public forum.”

Religious clothing and jewelry? Bring it on.

Also, “religious expression” in coursework will be OK under this, as will prayer groups and “religious gatherings” that could be organized at any time a commensurate (and undefined) secular activity is permitted, including during the school day.

This all sounds great to legislators. Just as we see at Jacksonville City Council, where pastors have been counted on for PhD-level dipshittery on subjects ranging from zoning to LGBT rights since the city was consolidated 50ish years ago, the same strictures of unctuous, false piety apply on the state level.

In this case, it will lead to a law with the kinds of holes in it that enterprising students with nothing to lose can exploit to create mischief in the classroom, under the aegis of “religious expression.”

This conception of God is great if everyone comes from similar cultural traditions, if we are all Pentecostal, Baptist, et al, isn’t elastic enough to encompass Judaism, Buddhism, Shintoism, Zoroastrianism, Islam, Wiccan faiths. Or even high-church Christianity.

This bill isn’t about faith. It’s about imposing a dumbed-down version of Christianity on students.

What happens when someone starts speaking in tongues during a timed standardized test? Or decides to “lay hands” on a fellow student who’s experiencing spiritual trouble during the test? Normally that would violate testing rules. In this context it could be permissible religious expression.

What happens if a student decides it’s time to lead the class in Latin prayer while the teacher is closing a lesson? Or wants to pray to Mecca, and the only way to do so is to go to the front of the room, perhaps speaking Arabic—is that “religious expression” or an introduction to a government watch list under this mess of a bill? Or decides, in a moment of Aleister Crowley cosplay, to introduce the dark arts of the occult/necromancy to what was intended to be a robust discussion of Common Core principles?

The bill has holes in it because it is written by demagogues for people who romanticize some concept of spirituality in schools that never remotely existed. The time to which they’re looking back never really existed. And certainly doesn’t exist now.

If I were a student and didn’t care about graduating, I’d exploit the holes in this bill until some administration abridged my religious expression, and then sue all parties involved.

The hilarious (or, more correctly, tragicomic) thing about all of this? This religious expression bill is probably going to be what passes for the legislative legacy of the Duval Delegation this year.

Because, in their infinite wisdom, members of the delegation (and the more regional First Coast Legislative Delegation) in the House voted, almost without exception, against Enterprise Florida, the governor’s business incentive package that helped bring a lot of corporations to Jacksonville in recent years that wouldn’t have come here otherwise.

Governor Rick Scott came to Jacksonville last week to call them all out. I asked him if his veto pen would be active, and he gave me a deliberately bland answer. But don’t get it twisted. If the guy is traveling the state to blow up these legislators, he means it.

So, when your kids are expressing their religion in their government schools, ask them to pray for septic tank phaseout, for the filling of potholes on state roads, for other projects. Maybe God will come through when Rick Scott won’t.

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