Bill would mandate moment of silence in Florida public schools

The Center Square – A conservative Florida state senator with a history of introducing controversial public school religious freedom legislation has filed a bill that would require districts to provide students with a moment of silence.

Sen. Dennis Baxley, R-Lady Lake, prefiled Senate Bill 382 on Thursday. It would mandate public school principals “set aside time for a moment of silence at the beginning of each school day.”

The bill is similar to Baxley’s Senate Bill 946, which passed through three Senate committees during the 2020 session before dying on second reading on the chamber’s floor.

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Baxley’s bill seeks to amend state statute “permitting brief meditation periods” to “requiring a moment of silence.” Under the measure, silence would be compulsory for at least one minute at the start of each school day.

“The Legislature finds that in the hectic society of today, 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 reads. “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.”

The bill does not cite what students can do during the moment of silence, suggesting first-period classroom teachers “encourage parents or guardians to discuss the moment of silence with their children and make suggestions as to the best use of this time.”

“Students may not interfere with other students’ participation,” SB 382 reads. “A teacher may not make suggestions as to the nature of any reflection that a student may engage in during the moment of silence.”

Baxley, author of Florida’s infamous Stand Your Ground law, also filed Senate Bill 746 in 2020. It sought to require – not permit, as is the case now – high schools to offer an “objective study of religion.”

Under the bill, districts would have required to offer courses on “Hebrew Scriptures, the Old Testament of the Bible, and the New Testament of the Bible” as electives, meaning students would not be forced to take them.

SB 746 never got a committee hearing.

During the 2019 session, Baxley filed Senate Bill 330, seeking to revise the state’s Next Generation Sunshine State Standards for instructional materials for science topics.

Under SB 330, “controversial theories and concepts shall be taught in a factual, objective and balanced manner.”

The bill was drafted from language provided by Naples-area grassroots Christian group the Florida Citizens’ Alliance (FCA), founded by retired IBM executive Keith Flaugh, who claims “cultural Marxism,” “LGBTQ values” and “Islam” are infiltrating public schools.

Baxley said during the 2019 session SB 330 was not an attack on science but an attempt to provide districts with more academic freedom in how they teach science.

“The purpose of this bill is to allow people to question and challenge certain ideas rather than saying, ‘This is the way it is,’ ” Baxley said. “We pursue all kinds of diversity but then we are like, ‘Don’t dare question anything that is set science,’ and the whole pursuit of science, for example, is pursue everything. There was a time in science that the world was flat.”

In 2017, Baxley filed Senate Bill 436, a “religious liberties” bill intended to “clarify First Amendment rights of free speech, specifically as they apply to religious expression” for students, teachers and school staff – protections already guaranteed through the Florida and U.S. constitutions, as well as U.S. Supreme Court rulings.

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