Florida lawmakers pass bill requiring moment of silence in schools

Florida public-school students might soon have a required moment of silence at the start of each day, under a measure passed Thursday by the Florida Senate and headed to Gov. Ron DeSantis’ desk.

The Senate voted 32-6 to pass the bill (HB 529), which was approved by the House last month in a 94-24 vote.

Under the measure, school principals would be required to direct first-period teachers to institute a one- to two-minute moment of silence at the beginning of each day.

Lawmakers have considered similar proposals in previous years but have not passed them.

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Under the bill, teachers would not be able to "make suggestions as to the nature of any reflection that a student may engage in during the moment of silence," and students "may not interfere with other students' participation."

The measure also would direct teachers to encourage parents to talk with students about the moment of silence and "to make suggestions as to the best use" of the time.

Senate sponsor Dennis Baxley, R-Ocala, said that part of the measure should alleviate concerns that teachers could influence how students use the silent time.

"It remains very clear in the wording of this bill that parents and guardians are the ones responsible for a discussion with their child about what’s the appropriate content of that time. We don’t want that responsibility on the teacher," Baxley said.

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Opponents of the measure have argued that mandating a moment of silence in public schools blurs the line between church and state.

"It would be a good thing if we could all take a moment of silence every day and reflect and meditate a little bit on things that are important to us. However, the framers of our Constitution were very careful to separate church and state," said Senate Minority Leader Gary Farmer, D-Lighthouse Point.

Sen. Lori Berman, D-Delray Beach, raised a concern about children who aren’t religious potentially being made uncomfortable by other students who choose to pray during the moment of silence.

"I understand that this is a moment of silence, but I also want us all to think about what could happen in a moment of silence. Could children take out rosaries and start doing the sign of the cross and (make) other children feel uncomfortable? Could a child take out a prayer rug and start using a prayer rug?" Berman said.

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Other Democrats supported the bill, with some drawing on personal experiences.

Sen. Victor Torres, D-Kissimmee, said he used a moment of silence to reflect when he attended school in New York as a child.

"I feel that it gives the teacher and the students a chance to reflect, and whichever religion you believe in, that’s your right," Torres said.

Baxley argued that the measure is aimed at giving school children a silent, uninterrupted moment "just to stop and reflect."

"However you use it,  just ... be still and listen and reflect before you start a day’s activity. I just read a piece about where they’re proposing this in business operations --- because the world’s in chaos," Baxley said.