TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — The Florida Senate Education Committee approved legislation Monday to require a daily 'moment of silence' in classrooms, a proposal critics allege is designed to subvert the Constitution's prohibition on organized prayer in public schools.
- Bill mandates one to two minutes of silence for student reflection
- American Atheists: No guidelines for teachers that do not promote religious practice
- House companion bill has not gotten a hearing
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The measure, SB 946 by Sen. Dennis Baxley, R-Lady Lake, would mandate that schools provide between one and two minutes of time for student reflection. Its language specifically bars teachers from suggesting what precisely students ought to reflect on.
"The fact is we live frantic lives, and I see it in my own grandchildren, and I think this could be very helpful to setting a different tone at the start of the day," Baxley told the committee.
But the bill's opponents warn it would create an environment where students could be unduly pressured to engage in prayer during moments of silence.
"I am concerned that a moment of silence law, if passed, would encourage educators to engage in improper proselytization," said Devon Graham, the Florida state director of American Atheists. "There are no guidelines whatsoever for teachers on how to discuss the moment of silence in a way that does not promote religious practice."
Under a widely-held interpretation of the Constitution's Establishment Clause, state-sanctioned prayer in public schools is forbidden. Some religious leaders have suggested that creating a 'moment of silence' could provide a constitutionally-sound outlet for some measure of classroom prayer.
Legislation similar to SB 946 has been signed into law in 15 states. The bill faces two more committee stops in the Senate and a House companion bill has yet to receive a hearing.