Yesterday, Florida’s Republican-majority legislature advanced a “Moment of Silence” bill that serves no educational purpose whatsoever. It gets worse from there.
HB 529 would force all public schools in the state to have a moment of silence that lasts at least 60 seconds. Yesterday, it passed out of the State House’s Early Learning & Elementary Education Subcommittee on a 12-6 straight party-line vote.
Perhaps more damning than the bill itself, though, is how the bill’s sponsor State Rep. Randy Fine (below) defended it by referencing the school shooting in Parkland. You can watch him around the 6:45 mark of this video:
I think we live in a world in which our kids have a lot of problems… Two years ago, three years ago — I can’t even remember — the most vivid day that many of us have had in the legislature was the day of Parkland, where on Valentine’s Day we were sitting on the floor and we learned about students being shot in schools. I fundamentally believe that our kids have issues today in part because they don’t have time for moments of reflection.
To put that another way, Fine thought about Parkland, blamed it on kids having “issues,” and thought the cure was forced silence.
In his head, the shootings wouldn’t have happened if kids had to stay quiet — or pray — every single morning. Not only is that absurd, it ignores the prospect of gun safety measures or a stronger social safety net. The solution for everything is prayer for these people — and when you can’t force Christianity on students, might as well force them to waste their time doing nothing.
American Atheists is livid over the matter:
“It is unconscionable that, mere days after the third year anniversary of the Parkland shooting, Representative Fine would exploit this tragedy in an effort to promote teacher-led prayer in public schools,” said Devon Graham, a Florida Assistant State Director at American Atheists, who also testified. “If Rep. Fine wants to take legislative action that will prevent another Parkland, he should introduce common sense gun control legislation that huge majorities of Floridians support. We’ve had enough of legislators’ ‘thoughts and prayers’.”
“If this backdoor school prayer bill passes, religious minority and nonreligious students will face discrimination,” said Nick Fish, president of American Atheists. “Is this really what Floridians want their state legislators spending time mandating? What a waste.”
To her credit, State Rep. Christine Hunschofsky condemned Fine’s statement during that hearing:
“As the former mayor of Parkland, who was the mayor at the time, a local elected official who followed the whole history of what happened, I would respectfully say that no moment of silence was ever brought up in any of the MSD commission meetings, by any of the experts, by anybody from the secret service,” she said. “I would like to be on the record with that.”
Fine responded to that comment by backtracking and saying he didn’t mean the thing we all heard him say on tape:
“To be clear, I’m not saying if this bill had passed, Parkland wouldn’t have happened,” Fine said.
Then what’s the point of it?! Kids who want to pray can do so when they wake up. Kids who need silence can do the same. To force teachers to waste 60-120 seconds of every single school day waiting around because they’re forbidden from educating kids during that time, all so a bunch of Christian lawmakers can pretend like they accomplished something useful when they’ve done absolutely nothing, is utter insanity.
The Florida legislature doesn’t need to micromanage schools like this. School districts are already allowed to have a moment of silence if they choose to — Fine’s bill would require them to do it even if the adults in the room believe it’s unnecessary. But this is what happens when you elect Republicans; instead of getting sensible legislation, you get Christian Nationalist bills that help nobody but appease religious zealots.