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Miami-Dade public schools will observe National Day of Prayer for second year in a row

Lara's grandmother always carried the rosary with her.
Jenna Sterner
The decision to observe National Day of Prayer in Miami-Dade County school district is meant to affirm people of all faiths, supporters say.

Miami-Dade County Public Schools will recognize the National Day of Prayer on May 4, after board members voted unanimously this week to approve the controversial proposal.

It’s the second year in a row that the MDCPS board has passed the measure, which advocates say is a rare step for a public school district. Miami-Dade is the state's biggest school district and the nation's fifth-largest.

“I look forward to seeing and participating in prayer services and prayer gatherings in our school where I will personally thank God for the very freedom to gather and to pray,” said board Vice Chair Dan Espino, who sponsored the proposal, “as well as ask God his blessing on our children and our ability to meet the education challenges of today.”

Observing the National Day of Prayer is meant to give students and educators the opportunity for “all people of different faiths in the United States to pray for the nation and its leaders”, according to the language of the proposal approved on Wednesday.

“In the name of inclusion, public education has created a space for a variety of perspectives and points of view over the decades. Space for voluntary prayer, unfortunately, trailed very, very far behind,” Espino said.

The vote comes as some board members are increasingly aligning themselves with the conservative agenda of Gov. Ron DeSantis, who has championed right-wing and Christian ideas, ahead of his expected 2024 bid for the White House.

The MDCPS proposal drew two dozen supporters, including Anthony Verdugo of the Christian Family Coalition, who for years has worked to oppose LGBTQ rights and legal protections.

“With this item, what you do is that you send a message to our state and our nation that unequivocally, children of faith are free to live their lives honestly, openly and with dignity,” Verdugo told the school board.

Bob Kunst, a veteran gay rights activist, said the proposal is part of a larger effort to advance a conservative Christian agenda aimed at targeting LGBTQ people.

“What is the motive behind all of this? I agree that ‘In God We Trust’. I also believe we don't want to put pressure on people who don't believe,” Kunst said.

Some supporters of the measure echoed the language of Christian nationalism, arguing that expanding prayer in schools is a way to marshal students for a battle between "good and evil."

“We need stronger children ready to stop evil,” said Catalina Stubbe, Director of Hispanic Outreach for the group Moms for Liberty. “We must proclaim Judeo-Christian values. This spiritual war can be won.”

In recent months, the nation’s highest court handed down a decision opening the door to more prayer in schools.

Last June, the Supreme Court said that a high school football coach who knelt and prayed on the field after games was protected by the Constitution, a decision that opponents said would open the door to “much more coercive prayer” in public schools.

While the public support for the MDCPS measure came from a distinctly Christian perspective, Board Member Luisa Santos, one of the proposal’s cosponsors, says it’s important to affirm people of all faith — or no faith at all.

“We remain an inclusive district for all and we respect, as the vice chair mentioned, including those whose faith may be different than ours or maybe agnostic,” Santos said.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Kate Payne is WLRN's Education Reporter. Reach her at kpayne@wlrnnews.org
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