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Earlier this week, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis signed and approved a new bill that will require all public schools in the state to observe a “moment of silence” in the classroom at the start of the day.
The bill, which has received disapproval and praise from both aisles, will be effective July 1 and will be enforced beginning with the 2021-2022 calendar school year in August.
“The Legislature finds that in today’s hectic society, too few persons are able to experience even a moment of quiet reflection before plunging headlong into the activities of daily life,” HB 529 reads. “Young persons are particularly affected by the absence of an opportunity for a moment of quiet reflection. The Legislature finds that our youth, and society as a whole, would be well served if students in the public schools were afforded a moment of silence at the beginning of each school day.”
On Monday, DeSantis signed the bill along with another bill allowing volunteer emergency services and ambulances to respond to emergencies with lights on their vehicles, just like regular first responders at a South Florida Jewish community center in Miami-Dade County.
Bill sponsor Rep. Randy Fine, R-Brevard, said the bill was “not a prayer in school bill,” on the House floor when lawmakers initially passed the bill in March.
Labeled the “Moments of Silence in Public Schools” bill, HB 529 will require all public schools in the state to start their day with a moment of silence no more than two minutes in length and prohibits teachers from suggesting to students how they may spend their moment of meditation, prayer, or peace.
Since the U.S. Supreme Court ruling in Engel v. Vitale (1962), school-sponsored prayer has been banned due to violations against the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment. However, the loophole in this bill is that “prayer” is not explicitly mentioned in the bill text.
Florida already allowed individual school districts to set rules for schools to hold their own moments of silence, but the signing will now override individual school districts, making it mandatory statewide.
“With technology, the media, and cell phones, children just don’t have that time to be centered the way we’d like them to be. This is going to allow them to be quiet and let the world into their minds in a way that may not be happening today,” said Fine via WJHG News.
Opponents of the bill believe the bill will push religion back into the classroom and compromise the division between church and state, but the language curbs that intent.
The Sunshine State now joins 14 other states requiring schools to allocate a moment of silence in the classroom at the beginning of each school day.
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