Florida Governor Ron DeSantis signed into law on Monday a bill requiring K-12 public schools to set aside at least one minute but not more than two minutes for a moment of silence at the start of each day in the next school year. Teachers won't be able to tell students what to reflect on during that time. DeSantis signed the bill at a Jewish Community Center in Miami-Dade County, where he said the new law is intended to protect religious freedom, adding:
"We think it's something that's important to be able to provide each student the ability every day to be able to reflect and to 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."
The bill, known as HB 529, which passed Florida's House by a vote of 94-24 and Senate by a vote of 32-6, does not specifically mention praying. It also forbids students from interfering with another student during the moment of silence. According to the legislation, each first-period classroom teacher shall encourage parents or guardians to discuss the moment of silence with their children and make suggestions for the best use of this time. The bill states that "a teacher may not make suggestions as to the nature of any reflection that a student may engage in during the moment of silence."
The law, which goes into effect on July 1, 2021, will make Florida the fifteenth U.S. state to mandate a moment of silence in its public school classrooms. Senator Victor Torres (D-Kissimmee) commented he has positive memories of the moment of silence from when he attended NYC public school as a child, saying, "[A moment of silence] gives the teacher and the students a chance to reflect, and whichever religion you believe in, that's your right." The bill reads:
"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. 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."
HB 529 drew objections from left-leaning groups who said that it amounts to government-required prayer. Still, Republicans and some Democratic supporters during the hearings on the legislation insisted it was not requiring prayers but merely a moment of reflection and silence. During debate on the House floor when it passed in March, the bill's sponsor Rep. Randy Fine, said it was "not a prayer in school bill." He suggested students could use the quiet time to think about homework or "get centered before the start of the day," adding:
"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. 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."
In addition to signing HB 529, DeSantis also signed HB 805, supporting Florida's Jewish Community. The Governor highlighted initiatives in his "Florida Leads" budget that supports the state's Jewish community and Israel, which includes $4 million in security funding for Florida's Jewish Day Schools and the first time ever funding for professional security.
The legislation ensures that faith-based volunteer first responder services, like Hatzalah, can operate if the service has worked in Florida for at least ten years and meets many other rigorous conditions. The bill allows authorized volunteer ambulance services to use emergency lights and sirens when responding. A press release from the Governor notes, "these services are critical for Holocaust survivors who have a fear of uniforms and of being taken away. Members are trained to treat patients according to Jewish law."