Florida Governor Ron DeSantis signed a bill this week requiring public schools to hold a daily moment of silence, which students can use to pray if they wish.
Gov. DeSantis said that the bill will allow 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,” Gov. DeSantis added before signing the bill.
He signed the bill during a news conference at The Shul of Bal Harbour Synagogue in Surfside, Florida.
HB 529 contains several important inclusions according to the Florida governor’s office. The bill:
- “Directs the principal of each public school to require teachers in first-period classrooms in all grades to set aside 1 to 2 minutes daily for a moment of silence, during which students may not interfere with other students’ participation.”
- “This is an expansion of current law which only ‘encourages’ a moment of ‘silent prayer.’”
Additionally, the bill stipulates that a teacher:
- “Must encourage parents to discuss the moment of silence with their children and to make suggestions as to the best use of this time.”
- “May not make suggestions as to the nature of any reflection that a student may engage in during the moment of silence.”
The bill wisely points out that the hustle and bustle of everyday life can make it difficult for people to find time to reflect in silence.
“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. Young persons are particularly affected by the absence of an opportunity for a moment of quiet reflection,” the bill states.
“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.”
School-sponsored prayer, in which students recite a prayer authored by a governmental authority, has been decreed unconstitutional by the U.S. Supreme Court since its ruling in Engel v. Vitale.
That case, decided in 1962, ruled against a school district in New York that directed its principal to “cause the following prayer to be said aloud by each class in the presence of a teacher at the beginning of each school day:
‘Almighty God, we acknowledge our dependence upon Thee, and we beg Thy blessings upon us, our parents, our teachers and our Country.’”
In the 6-1 ruling, the Supreme Court found that this violated the First Amendment’s Establishment Clause.
Some have argued that HB 529 mandates school-sponsored prayer. However, though the brief amount of reflection time could be used for prayer, the bill expressly states that a teacher cannot make suggestions as to how a student should use the moment of silence.
Now, the Supreme Court has also ruled against laws that authorize a moment of silence in public schools “for meditation or voluntary prayer.” The court ruled in 1985 in Wallace v. Jaffree that Alabama’s law authorizing the moment of silence violated the First Amendment’s Establishment Clause because the legislature intended to “endorse religion.”
Since then, other entities have implemented moments of silence that do not expressly encourage prayer, and these have been upheld by the courts.
Nonetheless, some believe that Florida’s new law is aimed at encouraging the Supreme Court to overrule Wallace v. Jaffree.
Robert P. George, a law professor at Princeton University, speculated on Twitter that HB 529 “gives the Supreme Court a chance to reverse a mistaken decision: Wallace v. Jaffree (1978). Should have happened long ago. Nothing in the text, logic, structure or original understanding of the First Amendment (or other constitutional provision) forbids a moment of silence.”
Regarding the bill, Florida Representative Randy Find said, “In this world of technological, media-driven, and societal turmoil, our children desperately need time for quiet reflection. Because it is in those fleeting moments that we find our higher purpose.
“HB 529 … ensure[s] 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.”
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Photo from Andrew West/The News-Press via Imagn Content Services, LLC/REUTERS