Saying children need time to pause and think during these hectic times, a growing number of Florida lawmakers have thrown their support behind a measure to require public schools to offer at least a minute-long moment of silence every day.
“Even a moment can change your perspective on a lot of things,” said Senate sponsor Dennis Baxley, the Ocala Republican who previously promoted controversial legislation to protect freedom of expression on state college and university campuses.
His bill (SB 946) won a favorable bipartisan vote from the Rules Committee on Monday, paving the way for it to head to the full Senate for consideration. Its House companion (HB 737) is awaiting a vote from the full lower chamber.
So far, the House measure has run into no opposition from members. The Senate version, by contrast, did encounter some pushback.
Democratic Leader Audrey Gibson of Jacksonville said she had no problem with requiring a moment of silence itself. She did take issue, however, with the part of the bill that would have responsibility for overseeing the moments of silence contact parents to discuss “the best use of the time.”
Such communication “is just not the thing we should do,” Gibson said, suggesting teacher-parent interactions should be kept to issues of behavior and academic performance. She said that aspect would prevent her from backing the bill.
Sen. Gary Farmer, a Broward County Democrat, was less supportive. He raised concerns with the possibility of students being ostracized or bullied if they choose not to participate in what could end up being a time for prayer.
That easily could happen, Farmer stated, noting that the bill would amend the section of state law titled “Permitting study of the Bible and religion.”
“Quiet reflection would do us all a bit of good,” he said. But the Legislature should not be passing laws so close to the establishment of religion, he added.
Sen. Rob Bradley, a Fleming Island Republican, by contrast, called the measure “one of the more important bills of this session.”
It provides students the freedom of religion and speech, he said, without having the state establish any religion. The bill is clear that teachers may not make suggestions to students on the nature of their reflection.
The moment of silence in school would provide a “place where you can be you, whatever that is … whatever you believe,” Bradley said. “I’m excited that you’ve done this,” he told Baxley.
Baxley contended that the current law, which permits students to take time for personal reflection in school, does not go far enough. This requirement would make it so students definitely get a short time to just meditate for a moment, he said, which is a positive way to start each day.
“We try to find these places where all of us can actually meet and make room for each other,” he said, acknowledging that not everyone believes the same things. “That’s what this bill is.”
The bill passed with some bipartisan support.