During the spring legislative session, proponents generally took a secular approach to at least a minute of silence daily in public schools, saying the effort would give kids a chance to reflect on themselves without distractions.
But Monday, the conversation shifted to “religious freedom” as Gov. Ron DeSantis signed the moment-of-silence bill into law at the Shul of Bal Harbour, a synagogue in Miami-Dade County.
“The idea that you can just push God out of every institution and be successful – I’m sorry but our founding fathers did not believe that,” DeSantis said before signing the bill. “So we have an opportunity here to protect the religious freedom of everybody going to school, K-12, in the state of Florida.”
The new law mandates that a first-period teacher initiates a daily moment of silence to last between one to two minutes. That would mean the first-period teacher will likely lose at least one minute of instruction every day of the school year, starting July 1, 2021.
The law also says teachers are not supposed to provide instruction on what to do with the time. Instead, they would encourage parents to discuss with their children how that time should be used.
DeSantis said at the bill signing that the new law will allow “each student the ability to… reflect and be able to pray as they see fit.”
Rabbi Sholom D. Lipskar, with the Shul of Bal Harbour synagogue, applauded the moment of silence law at the press conference, saying that the measure “will bring Godliness, humanity, structure, morality, ethics back to our children, our schools, our society and our communities.”
The House bill that became law was sponsored State Rep. Randy Fine, a Republican who represents part of Brevard County, and State Sen. Dennis Baxley, a Republican who represents Sumter County and parts of Lake and Marion counties.
Earlier in the session, Baxley said the bill will be helpful because “because the world’s in chaos,” and the moment of silence will help students gather themselves.
“If they do nothing but sit and meditate, for one minute, it can make a world of difference,” Baxley said back in April.
But during the session, Democratic lawmakers, advocates against what could become formal prayer in public schools and other opponents were skeptical.
Sen. Gary Farmer, a Democrat who represents part of Broward County, said during the session: “I understand the spirit with which the bill was brought, but I do think it has a consequence of negatively impacting something that is very important to this state and this country, which is the separation of church and state.”
Moments of silences are not uncommon in Florida schools currently. According to a legislative analysis of the issue, individual school districts have had the ability to implement a daily or weekly moment of silence.
In addition, schools will sometimes perform a moment of silence during times of collective tragedy, such as in the death of a student or following the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School mass shooting in 2018.
But now that DeSantis has signed the moment-of-science law, teachers will be required to provide at least one minute of the day to allow students to quietly think about whatever they want, be that prayer or anything else