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Caricature of Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis by DonkeyHotey created from a photo on Gage Shidmore’s Flickr photostream. (DonkeyHotey, Flickr, CC BY 2.0)

When Gov. Ron DeSantis recently signed Florida’s new so-called “moment of silence” law, it was the old okey doke, or, in other words, a sneaky fake-out pandering to his arch-conservative base of supporters.

The law requires all Florida public schools to “sponsor a one-minute prayer or meditation” every day, reported Church & State, the magazine of secularist watchdog group Americans United for Separation of Church and State (AU).

The text of House Bill 529 (“Moments of Silence in Public Schools”):

“Moments of Silence in Public Schools; Requires principals to require teachers to set aside time for moment of silence; prohibits teachers from making suggestions to nature of any reflection during moment of silence; deletes provision authorizing district school boards to provide brief period of silent prayer or meditation; requires certain teachers encourage parents or guardians to discuss moment of silence & make suggestions as to the best use of this time.”

Nonreligious people know exactly what this law is a dog whistle for: public-school prayer, and an end-run around the U.S. Constitution, which (as DeSantis well knows) prohibits official, school-sanctioned prayer throughout America, and the U.S. Supreme Court, which has concurred in multiple rulings over decades.

It’s a way to overtly seem to not have school-sponsored prayer while covertly having it.

The governor’s smoke-and-mirrors (moment-of-silence) tactics are an integral part of the continuing Christian Nationalist/Christian Right strategy of disingenuously insinuating faith ever deeper into the fabric of the nation’s life — particularly in schools. The goal is that people will hardly notice it’s happening and be inured as it becomes culturally normalized — as Christian privilege became over centuries of purposeful embedding during the American experiment supposedly in Enlightenment-informed secular democracy.

The nation’s Founding Fathers were predominantly men informed by the radical rationalist ideas of the Enlightenment, which, tellingly, is commonly known as the Age of Reason (the title of anti-Christian colonial American firebrand Tom Paine’s best-known treatise), not the Age of Faith. In fact, the Enlightenment erupted in robust opposition to the hidebound strictures of prior centuries’ blood-thirsty monolithic faith in Western Europe.

So, what DeSantis and other elected officials and other zealous Christians are trying to do is corrupt the Founders’ intent to have secular governance and a secular tax-supported public square, which includes tax-funded schools. They want to accomplish what the Founders’ heartily tried to avoid: not only an American theocracy but a system dominated by a single religious faith.

DeSantis is hardly alone.

As I’ve posted about previously, Bill Barr, U.S. attorney general under Donald Trump, proclaimed in official speeches delivered in his Cabinet-level capacity, that the nation was founded on principles of the “Judeo-Christian tradition,” which, if effect, means Christian tradition. Barr, a devout, even ideologue, Catholic, clamored for theocracy, not democracy, except perhaps for supposedly “real” Americans who were Judeo-Christians.

Seeming to underscore this assumption, DeSantis chose to sign HB 529 at an Orthodox Jewish community center in Surfside, Florida, site of the recent catastrophic collapse of a high-rise apartment complex in which about 100 residents perished. He also denounced anti-Semitism there and embraced U.S. and Floridian ties to Israel.

The bill he signed made Florida “one of at least 15 states, a legislative analysis said, that would compel schools to hold moments of silence at public schools,” according to the Tallahasee Daily Journal. “The state had already been among roughly 18 other states that gave schools the option to do so.”

The Associated Press reported that the signing had the “air of a campaign event.”

DeSantis is rumored to be considering a 2024 presidential run, so he is pandering to former President Trump’s heavily Christian Right base that still seems to be deep in Trump’s pocket.

The governor is also poo-pooing the value of face masks to save lives and stall the spread of a particularly infectious variant of coronavirus now ravaging his state and most others in the union with a a viral surge. Mask-demonization is another greatest-hits meme of the Trump base. First, it was the virus was a “hoax.”

But the moment of silence deceit is even more disconcerting for nonreligious Americans and those who honor the Constitution. Every reasonable person clearly sees this for what it is: a grift.

In the current political and culture wars in America, both sides, but most especially the Right, increasingly seem to think that the end justifies their means.

For many Americans seeking quixotic “certainty” in their lives, supernatural religion “offers solace, identity, and the feeling that one’s position in the world is safe,” wrote author Katherine Stewart in an essay adapted from her book, The Power Worshippers: Inside the Dangerous Rise of Religious Nationalism, and published in the August/September edition of the secular magazine Free Inquiry.

And many of these tens of millions of believers have also glommed onto the personality cult of Donald Trump. Wrote Stewart:

“Yet all too often the price of certainty in America’s conservative congregations is the surrender of one’s political will to those who claim to offer refuge from the tempest of modern life. The leaders of the movement have demonstrated real savvy in satisfying some of the emotional concerns of their followers, but they have little intention of giving them a voice in where the movement is going. They relentlessly promote the message that the world is divided between the pure and the impure, insiders and outsiders, and assure their followers that if they conform, they will be on the inside. At gatherings of the faithful, loyalty is a test of truth, and supporting the ‘right’ candidates is a key to the path of spiritual salvation.”

None of this is about gaining useful knowledge that might objectively making lives better in the future but deceitful emotional gratification that only feels good temporarily, and for spurious reasons — until the pandemic explodes into a human catastrophe or the dear leader proves to be wearing no clothes.

I’d take a moment of silence for those.

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Rick Snedeker

Rick Snedeker is a retired American journalist/editor who now writes in various media and pens nonfiction books. He has received nine past top South Dakota state awards for newspaper column, editorial,...