Rep. Randy Fine’s bill to require teachers to set aside a moment of silence during school is heading to the House floor.
The legislation would call on principles to require teachers to hold a one- to two-minute moment of silence each day during first period classes in public schools. The bill would prohibit teachers from making suggestions about the nature of any reflection during the moment of silence and instead encourages teachers to discuss the pause with students’ parents or guardians, with them giving their children direction on how best to use the time.
Critics of the legislation fear the bill is just another measure to blur the lines between church and state.
However, Fine argued the bill is intended to give students an opportunity to take some time ahead of the school day to reflect — regardless of religious affiliation.
“Every child can benefit from a time, whether you’re Jewish or Christian or you don’t believe in God at all, every child will benefit from this time to be centered before the beginning of the day,” Fine said.
Current law allows school boards to set aside up to two minutes each day or each week for classes to give students the opportunity for prayer or meditation.
The bill faced opposition from Democrats in its first committee but has gone on to gain bipartisan approval.
Rep. Chris Latvala, chair of the House Education and Employment Committee, mentioned a similar bill the Legislature attempted to pass last year. That bill (HB 737) was sponsored by former Democratic Rep. Kimberly Daniels and made it to the House floor with unanimous approval from all of its committees.
“I haven’t seen the same bipartisanship, so to speak, this year,” Latvala said at the meeting. “And the difference between this bill and last year’s bill is the person who sponsored it, and the party who sponsored it, and so that’s just something that I wanted to point out. But nevertheless, it’s a good bill, whether a Republican sponsors it or a Democrat sponsors it.”
Several organizations waived in opposition to the bill, including the American Civil Liberties Union of Florida, American Atheists and the Florida National Organization for Women. Rabbi Schneur Oirechman spoke in support of the bill.
The Senate version of the bill (SB 282) filed by Sen. Dennis Baxley, is on to its second committee out of three.