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VIN MANNIX COLUMN | Save religion for church, not schools

The high school football game is over, victors and vanquished shake hands and the coach gathers his players for the Lord’s Prayer.

Whether it was Joe Kinnan, Paul Maechtle or Raymond Woodie, it’s a postgame ritual I respect.

Now if principals Bob Gagnon or Jim Pauley or Willie Clark proselytized at a school assembly, that is a problem.

What’s the difference?

The first is an association by choice.

The other is not.

Although I wouldn’t blame principals who seek divine intervention to save them from the Florida Legislature.

What brings this up is the legislative push to expand religion’s role in public education, specifically protection for teachers and students praying in public school.

The heightened concern of righteous GOP leadership for our children’s spiritual well-being is heartwarming.

Pandering for votes in Florida trumps constitutional safeguards against state-sponsored religious activity every time.

What spurred the Legislature’s zeal was the testimony of Pace High Principal Frank Lay, who got into a 2009 legal flap with the American Civil Liberties Union, which successfully sued the Santa Rosa County School District.

According to the Northwest Florida Daily News, two students alleged school officials regularly promoted religion and offered prayers, violating their First Amendment rights.

Lay was told by the school district to stop.

He didn’t, but was eventually cleared of contempt of court charges with a judge’s warning: “Promoting of religion by school officials will not be tolerated.”

Public school is for reading, writing and ‘rithmetic.

Not religion.

That’s for church and the home.

Prayer on the football field is an exception because students choose to be there.

There’s one pre-game prayer I’ll never forget.

Before Boca Raton hosted Lake Worth in a district football showdown years ago, a minister gave an oration worthy of his finest Sunday sermon, starting slowly and building to a mighty crescendo in the darkened locker room.

Then Boca coach Otis Gray flicked on the lights and yelled: “NOW GET OUT THERE AND MAKE THEM @#$%&! WISH THEY’D NEVER BEEN BORN!”

Boca Raton lost by three touchdowns.

Mannix About Manatee, by columnist Vin Mannix, is about people and issues in Manatee Count. Please call Vin Mannix at 745-7055, write him at Bradenton Herald, P.O. Box 921, Bradenton, FL 34206 or e-mail him at vmannix@bradenton.com. Please include a phone number for verification purposes.

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