Today in stock yards all across the nation, the cattle enjoyed a one day stay of execution. That’s because there was little demand for beef as people crowded into their local Chic Fil A to show their support of Dan Cathy’s First Amendment rights. It was a thirty minute wait for those wonderful waffle fries and peach milkshakes. As my son and I stood in line, I was amazed by what I saw. The line reached around to the back of the building. The drive through line all the way though the parking lot, down the driveway and out to the highway. There were even cops directing the traffic. We had to park a lot away. People even showed up in a church bus.
The mood was neighborly, friendly and festive. What was even more impressive was what I didn’t see. There were no honking horns and hand gestures. No cutting in line. No bored indifferent employees. There were so many “thank you’s” and “pardon me’s” you would’ve thought it was a finishing school exam. Even those who may have disagreed with Dan Cathy’s position showed an enormous amount of class by not showing up to protest. I left with the impression that these people get it. This wasn’t a gay marriage thing, it wasn’t even a Christian thing. It was a Constitutional thing. When the government, be it local, state, or national, tries to silence the opinions of decent, moral, hardworking folks, we just can’t take that lying down. They didn’t during the Boston Tea Party, they didn’t on July 4th, 1776, and we didn’t on Aug 1st 2012.
On Thursday, March 1st, the Florida State legislature passed SB, 98 www.flsenate.gov /Session/Bill/2012/0098/BillText/Filed/PDFwhich gives individual school districts the freedom to allow student led “inspirational messages” during mandatory assemblies and other school sponsored events. The bill was sponsored by a Democrat,
State Senator Gary Siplin, and was overwhelmingly passed with bi-partisan support. A fact that might surprise many conservatives and Evangelicals. The bill now awaits the probable signing from Governor Rick Scott. Other states are taking notice and waiting to see how this law will play out in the practical application of public school policy.
As a Christian and a mother, I should be elated about this. Over the past few decades we have seen the First Amendment being twisted and perverted into an instrument to deny Christians the right to freely practice our beliefs in public. Activities that are actually a positive influence on campus such as the annual See You At The Pole or groups such as the Fellowship of Christian Athletes are routinely banned from school property even though these activities are completely voluntary and take place outside of regular class hours. Teachers are forbidden to acknowledge their Christian beliefs on their school website bios and are reprimanded for publicly expressing their beliefs even when they are outside of the school setting. This is wrong and is in opposition to the true intent of the First Amendment.
This bill, however, is a bad idea. The bill’s only strongpoint is that it puts the authority for implementation in the hands of the individual school boards. This is right because the boards are better able to determine the needs and beliefs of their communities better than the state government can. The bill seeks to protect the schools from First Amendment litigation by giving the responsibility for choosing, who delivers the message and its content, to the discretion of the students. School officials and employees are forbidden to interfere in any way with the students’ decisions. There is absolutely no way a school board can define what constitutes an “inspirational message” without violating the rights of one group or another. These messages could be anything from a prayer or devotional to an anarchist rant, or hate group rhetoric. Any student who has an ax to grind or just simply enjoys stirring up trouble will now have a platform. Time and precious school resources would be wasted on the litigation that is sure to ensue if any school board tries to implement rules to curb the chaos.
The school system in Florida has many challenges. Fixing a broken system of accountability is one. Though it is a well-intentioned attempt at restoring morality in the school system, this law will not work. The only way to improve the quality of education in Florida or anywhere else in this country is to remind the schools that their purpose is to serve their students, parents and taxpayer supporters, not the other way around. The only way to accomplish what this bill is trying to do, is to implement school choice.