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Florida public school students would be required to start day with moment of silence, under proposed law

State law currently gives school districts the option to set aside time

(Ashlee Rezin Garcia/Chicago Sun-Times via AP)
(Ashlee Rezin Garcia/Chicago Sun-Times via AP)

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – Florida public-school students would have up to two minutes of silence at the start of each school day, under a proposal approved by a House panel on Monday.

The proposal HB 737, sponsored by Rep. Kimberly Daniels, D-Jacksonville, would mandate all students to pause between one and two minutes “before plunging headlong into the activities of daily life.”

Daniels said teachers would not be allowed to tell students what to reflect on. The bill, however, would require teachers to “encourage” parents to talk with their children on how to best use those minutes each day.

State law currently gives school districts the option to set aside the same amount of time for students to silently pray or meditate at the start of the school day or once a week. But it is not a requirement.

Critics of the measure argued Monday the requirement would entangle public schools with religion and would lead to costly lawsuits. Devon Graham, the Florida state director for American Atheists, said the mandate would single out kids who “do not fit the norm." She said the bill could lead to litigation in cases where kids are reprimanded for using the moment of silence for purposes such as Satanic worship.

The House PreK-12 Appropriations Subcommittee unanimously approved the bill, without any debate. The bill must clear the House Education Committee before it can get a vote on the House floor.

A similar Senate proposal SB 946, sponsored by Sen. Dennis Baxley, R-Ocala, has passed two committees and has one more before it can head to the Senate floor.