Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis signed a bill Monday requiring schools in the Sunshine State to require a moment of silence before class each day, allowing students to “reflect and be able to pray as they see fit."
“The idea that you can just push God out of every institution and be successful, I’m sorry, our Founding Fathers did not believe that,” DeSantis said before signing the legislation behind a placard that read “protect religious liberty,” according to News Service of Florida.
H.B. 529 goes into effect July 1 and makes Florida one of 15 states in the United States that require moments of silence at the beginning of each school day, ABC7 News reported.
DeSantis signed the bill at the Shul of Bal Harbour, a Jewish community center in southern Florida. He also signed legislation to allow faith-based volunteer ambulance services to operate, including a Jewish transport service called Hatzalah. The Republican highlighted initiatives to support Israel and Florida’s Jewish community.
“Every family in our state should be able to send their children to school and know that they will be protected from harm and be able to practice their faith,” DeSantis said in a statement. “I’m proud to sign these bills today to help protect religious freedom in Florida and increase the safety and security of our Jewish communities.”
A moment of silence was already implemented in many Florida schools, but it will become mandatory in the next school year. This new law expands a current statute that only “encourages” a moment of “silent prayer” in school.
The new legislation directs the public school principal to require teachers in first-period classrooms to set aside one to two minutes each morning for a moment of silence, and students cannot interfere with another student’s participation.
The teacher must encourage parents to discuss the moment of silence with their children to suggest how to best use the time. The teacher, however, is not allowed to suggest the nature of reflection the student may engage in during the allotted moment of silence.
Florida’s Commissioner of Education Richard Corcoran said the moment of silence could have positive implications on children struggling with mental health and will allow parents to have conversations with their children about how best to use the time for reflection.
“We know that many children struggle with mental health issues, which impact them, their families, and their schools most of all,” Corcoran said in a statement. “HB 529 empowers families to begin those ongoing conversations with their child on what they might reflect on during the moment of silence, and help them use this time as an opportunity to prepare for the upcoming day.”
Republican Sen. Dennis Baxley said the time of silence will give students “a moment to gather themselves in a quiet moment of reflection,” which he said is needed in the “frantic pace of modern life.”
Rep. Randy Fine, the bill’s sponsor, posted on Facebook that the bill allows “prayer back into schools via a moment of silence for all of our schoolchildren."
"I won’t stop fighting back against woke radicals who wish to drive the Judeo-Christian values from every aspect of our lives!" Fine added.
In another statement, Fine said that in a "media-driven" world full of "societal turmoil," students "desperately need time for quiet reflection.”
“Because it is in those fleeting moments that we find our higher purpose," Fine argued. "That’s why I was so proud to sponsor HB 529, to ensure that each child gets a minute at the beginning of the school day — without a TV on or a cellphone blaring — to think about the world and their place in it. It is my hope that these small moments to become emotionally centered will have a big impact on their days — and their lives.”
Some lawmakers and secular groups are opposed to the bill.
Devon Graham of American Atheists, an organization that advocates for a strict separation of church and state, told media she is suspicious the bill is a way to mandate prayer in the classroom.
“It is a bit of a back door way of getting there,” said Graham, arguing that the moment of silence should not be mandatory.
Rep. Omari Hardy, a progressive Democrat from West Palm Beach, also condemned the bill and the Republicans who passed it.
“The Republican who sponsored the bill said that it wasn't about prayer in school. (Of course it was!),” Hardy tweeted. “But when you question their motives, or their honesty, it's called a personal attack & deemed out of order. No. The Republicans lie, and we need to call them on it every time.”
Ivan Gluck, an 83-year-old community member, sees the bill “putting God back into the school system” as a positive for the school system.
“If you don’t have religion, then I think that society and humanity will come to an end,” he said, according to The Tampa Bay Times.
Emily Wood is a reporter for The Christian Post. She can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org