The Freedom From Religion Foundation is condemning a new law in Florida that seeks to insert divisive religion into the public school day.
In the wake of the 2018 Parkland shooting, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, then a member of Congress, offered the state’s public school students only “thoughts and prayers.” But DeSantis has taken that useless gesture to another level by signing into law HB 529, which mandates a daily moment of silence at Florida public schools.
A previous law allowed for an optional period of “silent prayer or meditation,” even though a 1985 U.S. Supreme Court decision, Wallace v. Jaffree, held that such laws run afoul of the U.S. Constitution because they appear to endorse a religious practice. This optional period of wasted instruction, between one and two minutes every single school day, is now mandatory in Florida schools.
Some advocates of the new law have implausibly argued that it does not promote prayer. Yet, DeSantis has stated that his intent in signing the bill into law is to “provide each student the ability every day to reflect and be able to pray as they see fit.” He has further described the bill as a response to attempts to “push God out of every institution.”
“This is actually an attempt to score some cheap political points,” comments FFRF Co-President Dan Barker. “The law to encourage prayer in school will unfortunately divide students along religious lines.”
Instead of giving public schools time to pray, Florida legislators should give them adequate funding, Barker adds. Florida is among the worst states in the country in terms of public school funding. The state’s voucher scheme diverts funds to private religious schools, and now the state is inserting religion, rather than dollars, back into public schools. As FFRF attorney Ryan Jayne has recently described, this bill is only one such threat to secular schools.
Florida students deserve a secular, well-funded public school system that aims to educate, not indoctrinate.