A new Florida law will require schools to hold a one- to two-minute moment of silence at the start of each day in public schools.
Gov. Ron DeSantis signed the bill into law Monday after similar legislation failed to pass previous Sessions.
Pushback over the new law, in previous Sessions and this last one, came from some Democratic lawmakers who were concerned the moment of silence was about religion, and the new law could violate the separation of church and state or make children of different faiths feel uncomfortable.
Proponents of the bill (HB 529) made assurances the new law has nothing to do with religion and is only intended to offer time for reflection.
But by the bill’s signing event Monday, DeSantis pulled religion back into the debate.
“The idea that you can just push God out of every institution and be successful, I’m sorry our founding fathers did not do that,” DeSantis said while speaking at a Jewish community center called the Shul in Surfside.
The Governor’s Republican allies also focused heavily on the bill allowing for silent prayer. Lt. Gov. Jeanette Nuñez said the bill will “allow for religious freedom and allow for students to have a minute or two at the start of their day.”
Rabbi Sholom D. Lipskar introduced DeSantis at the event calling him “the number one Governor in the entire United States of America.” The religious leader considered the bill a win too.
“The bill for the moment of silence will bring Godliness, humanity, structure, morality, ethics back to our children, our schools, our society and our community,” Lipskar said.
The law prohibits teachers from making suggestions to students about what to think about or do during the moment of silence, but it does encourage teachers to discuss with parents or guardians how the student can best utilize the moment.
“Who knows what may be changed simply because the children of Florida will have the opportunity of quiet reflection. I want to thank the community of faith for stepping up for this freedom,” Sen. Dennis Baxley said shortly after DeSantis spoke. Baxley sponsored the Senate version of the bill.
The tone at the event was a departure from earlier comments by the bill’s sponsors that the measure was not explicitly aimed at allowing prayer.
Baxley, an Ocala Republican, defended the measure during a Senate floor debate in April by saying the bill is aimed at giving school children a silent, uninterrupted moment “just to stop and reflect.”
House sponsor Randy Fine, a Brevard County Republican, similarly argued in February that the proposal would not push religion on public-school students.
The new law, which takes effect July 1, will be in place by the start of the next school year.
Current law allows — but does not require — schools to set aside up to two minutes each day or each week to give students the opportunity for prayer or meditation.
Fourteen states require a moment of silence during the school day according to an analysis of the bill. Eighteen other states permit schools to allow a moment of silence.
The push for a required moment of silence in schools had been sought by members of the Florida Legislature before. Former Rep. Kim Daniels pushed similar legislation in a prior Session. That bill cleared the House but died in the Senate.
Also during Monday’s appearance, DeSantis signed a bill to allow volunteer ambulance services that are faith-based nonprofit organizations to provide basic and advanced life-support services free of charge.
The bill (HB 805), which also is set to go into effect July 1, will allow the volunteer ambulances to use emergency lights when responding to calls. Only services that have been operating in the state for a decade or more are eligible.
DeSantis said the measure supports volunteer ambulance services with a “proven track record” like Hatzalah, a non-profit that provides services in South Florida.
“These services are critical for Holocaust survivors who have a fear of uniforms and of being taken away,” a news release about the bill from DeSantis’ office said Monday. “Members are trained to treat patients according to Jewish law.”
Rep. Mike Caruso, a Delray Beach Republican who sponsored the ambulance bill, likened it to the bill mandating a moment of silence.
“Hatzalah means ‘rescue,’” Caruso said. “And … this bill, I see it as a first step of rescuing our communities and our society from the purging of God out of it. And this is a first step of getting God back into our communities.”