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House Education Kills Noem School Prayer Bill

Maybe instead of gallivanting out to Las Vegas again this week, Governor Kristi Noem should have stayed home and worked on passing her Legislative agenda. House Bill 1015, Governor Noem’s school prayer mandate, failed its first committee hearing yesterday.

Team Noem weakened its chances of winning its “big push” to put prayer back in school by leading off its House Education testimony with William Jeynes, professor of education at California State University Long Beach. Calling in from California, Dr. Jeynes started with a long ramble about school shootings. He then cited Bill Clinton as an authority on the merits of prayer in school: “…nothing in the First Amendment converts our public schools into religion-free zones, or requires all religious expression to be left behind at the schoolhouse door.”

Alas, for those scoring at home, Clinton’s August 1995 memo from which Jeynes pulls his single line actually argued against mandates like HB 1015 as unnecessary and improper. [I italicize the line Jeynes quotes, then bold the lines that torpedo HB 1015]:

As our courts have reaffirmed, however, nothing in the First Amendment converts our public schools into religion-free zones, or requires all religious expression to be left behind at the schoolhouse door. While the government may not use schools to coerce the consciences of our students, or to convey official endorsement of religion, the government’s schools also may not discriminate against private religious expression during the school day.

I have been advised by the Department of Justice and the Department of Education that the First Amendment permits—and protects—a greater degree of religious expression in public schools than many Americans may now understand. The Departments of Justice and Education have advised me that, while application may depend upon specific factual contexts and will require careful consideration in particular cases, the following principles are among those that apply to religious expression in our schools:

Student prayer and religious discussion: The Establishment Clause of the First Amendment does not prohibit purely private religious speech by students. Students therefore have the same right to engage in individual or group prayer and religious discussion during the school day as they do to engage in other comparable activity. For example, students may read their Bibles or other scriptures, say grace before meals, and pray before tests to the same extent they may engage in comparable non-disruptive activities. Local school authorities possess substantial discretion to impose rules of order and other pedagogical restrictions on student activities, but they may not structure or administer such rules to discriminate against religious activity or speech.

Generally, students may pray in a nondisruptive manner when not engaged in school activities or instruction, and subject to the rules that normally pertain in the applicable setting. Specifically, students in informal settings, such as cafeterias and hallways, may pray and discuss their religious views with each other, subject to the same rules of order as apply to other student activities and speech. Students may also speak to, and attempt to persuade, their peers about religious topics just as they do with regard to political topics. School officials, however, should intercede to stop student speech that constitutes harassment aimed at a student or a group of students.

Students may also participate in before or after school events with religious content, such as “see you at the flag pole” gatherings, on the same terms as they may participate in other noncurriculum activities on school premises. School officials may neither discourage nor encourage participation in such an event.

The right to engage in voluntary prayer or religious discussion free from discrimination does not include the right to have a captive audience listen, or to compel other students to participate. Teachers and school administrators should ensure that no student is in any way coerced to participate in religious activity [President Bill Clinton, memo on religious expression in public schools, August 1995].

HB 1015 is unnecessary, because the First Amendment already allows students to voluntarily pray at school. HB 1015 is improper, because, as Jeynes’s and Noem’s advocacy make clear, it is an effort by the state to encourage students to pray, and the Establishment Clause does not allow the state to promote any religion.

Team Noem then sent one of her oft-churned stable of imported Beltway politicos, Allen Cambon, to recite the office line about HB 1015. But later, during questioning, House Education member Representative Mike Stevens (R-18/Yankton) made Cambon and HB 1015 look arrogant and out of touch:

Representative Mike Stevens, R-Yankton, asked Allen Cambon, a policy advisor to the governor, “How many schools did you contact about this?”

Cambon replied, “We talked with the (state) Department of Education’s office. We saw they were doing this in lots of other states. So the governor felt it was a good opportunity to return a sense of decorum and civic appreciation to our schools, and that’s why we brought the bill.”

“My question was,” Stevens told him, “how many school districts did you contact?”

“We didn’t talk directly with school districts with this bill,” Cambon answered.

“You didn’t talk to anybody?” Stevens asked.

“That’s fair to say,” Cambon said [Bob Mercer, “Gov. Noem’s School  ‘Moment of Silence’ Bill Defeated by House Committee,” KELO-TV, 2022.01.21].

Had Team Noem consulted with schools, they’d have heard what lobbyists from the school administrators, the teachers union, the large school group, the United School Association of South Dakota, and the school boards told House Education: just as President Clinton said in 1995, the First Amendment already gives students and staff the freedom to pray silently any time they want in school, without any legislative mandate. Rob Monson of the School Administrators of South Dakota led off opponent testimony with a simple and effective demonstration of his point. He paused before he took the mic, then told the committee he’d used that moment to pray for the defeat of HB 1015. He said that neither he nor any students needed a legislative mandate to carve out time for them to practice their religion:

Prayer has never been forced out of the public schools, nor has it ever left. As I was praying this morning, none of you knew what I was doing, nor could you control what I was doing, and you certainly couldn’t force me to stop what I was doing [Rob Monson, testimony against HB 1015, House Education Committee, 2022.01.21; transcribed from SDPB audio, timestamp ~14:35].

Monson sharply contrasted HB 1015’s mandate for a “moment of silence” with the Legislature’s vigorous resistance to other mandates:

This body has prided itself on individual freedoms. You have not told anyone to wear a mask. You have not told anyone to get a vaccine. In fact, most actions are leaning further in the other direction with personal freedoms. Do you really want to pivot on that now and dictate a moment of silence at our public schools? [Monson, 2022.01.21]

Unlike the Noem Administration, South Dakota Education Association lobbyist Jeremiah M. Murphy did speak with a teacher, one who works a lot with elementary kids. He asked how she would enforce a one-minute moment of silence with second graders. She said she’d have the kids put their heads down on their desk so they wouldn’t get distracted looking at their classmates. Then Murphy read what he called this “curious” bill and noticed what I noticed when I read Noem’s grandstanding press release about the bill in December: HB 1015 forbids any school employee from dictating the action to be taken during the moment of silence. Murphy said HB 1015 thus invites a minute of anarchy, especially from first-graders freed from any teacher direction.

Murphy noted that the teacher he talked to said she already uses moments of silence all the time to calm kids down. Teachers already have that authority, Murphy testified, “So I’m just curious… why we would create a meditation mandate to say stop…top down, we in Pierre know what’s best? You folks in Alexandria, Mitchell, or Parker, you need to be directed from Pierre on how to make this happen.

House Education member Rep. Will Mortenson (R-24/Pierre) expressed his opposition to HB 1015 in an opinion column written before the hearing in which he categorized this school-prayer bill as one of dozens of “clickbait” proposals before this 2022 Legislature. Like Murphy and unlike Noem, Mortenson spoke with teachers and school boards about and heard this state mandate is unnecessary:

When I spoke to the school boards about this topic, I asked if a teacher could hold a moment of silence in class currently. The answer – yes. Further, they told me, a principal could make this a policy for his school or the superintendent for her school district. Finally, school boards are fully authorized to pass this as a resolution, if they thought it would help our kids. If this is a good idea, teachers, principals, superintendents, or school boards can do it today.

Finally, I haven’t seen a trend that would indicate a current or forthcoming problem that HB1005 solves. Instead, teachers have told me that the bill is impractical. I also worry that it could take away time and focus from instruction or cause unforeseen headaches for the teachers and students.

So, common sense dictates opposition to HB1005. It’s an idea that sounds good, but once I looked into it, I’m not sure it will do good [Rep. Will Mortenson, “Mort Report: Hot Topics in Education,” DRGNews.com, 2022.01.21].

Six of Mortenson’s Republican colleagues still voted for this ill-informed, ill-written, unnecessary, and arguably unconstitutional mandate motivated by one politician’s urgent need to make good on a sloppy campaign promise. But some of the most Jesus-freaky members of the committee, including Rep. Drew Dennert (R-3/Aberdeen), Rep. Phil Jensen (R-33/Rapid City), and House Education chair Rep. Lana Greenfield (R-2/Doland) were among the nine who answered Monson’s prayer and voted to kill House Bill 1015.

Again, if Noem had spent as much time talking to teachers and school boards as she has spent talking to Las Vegas audiences, she might have been able to write a better bill and build more support from educators and from members of her own party for her “education” agenda.

38 Comments

  1. larry kurtz 2022-01-22

    Watching the South Dakota Republican Party cleaving itself into its respective factions make me very happy.

  2. sx123 2022-01-22

    If you have to pray to pass your algebra test, you didn’t study hard enough.

  3. Vi Kingman 2022-01-22

    How will this be enforced and what happens if it isn’t followed?

    Why can’t people see what Noem is doing? All this just to make herself look good on the MAGA national stage. Is this what we want in South Dakota? I hope not.

  4. jkl 2022-01-22

    Amen.

  5. grudznick 2022-01-22

    BAH at the overgodders.

  6. Dana P 2022-01-22

    Scary that this didn’t go down 15-0

  7. Cory Allen Heidelberger Post author | 2022-01-22

    sx123, I have yet to see divine intervention reliably boost anyone’s test scores. But Noem isn’t pushing bills to improve academic achievement.

  8. Cory Allen Heidelberger Post author | 2022-01-22

    Vi Kingman, I suppose it’s kind of like abortion bans: if the Republicans succeeded in passing their theocratic bills, what would they have left to campaign on?

    But let’s watch: using Noem’s logic, she and her fans could campaign against Will Mortenson, Phil Jensen, and Lana Greenfield by saying they voted with the Radical Left to keep prayer out of schools.

  9. Donald Pay 2022-01-22

    A bill may be killed in committee, but bills, unlike humans, it may have an afterlife.

    Noem couldn’t personally be involved in her signature issue because she had a Las Vegas booty call, so she called in reinforcements from out of state. Pretty stupid legislative strategy. I can’t imagine Bill Janklow or George Mickelson handing the torch on her signature bill over to some out-of-state flunkies who didn’t bother to do their homework. I could have gotten on my rotary dial and made a few comments to the committee, but just between you and me, the legislators would pay almost as much attention to me as they did to Noem’s imports.

  10. John Dale 2022-01-22

    I have to admit it played like a bit of a virtue signal.

    Nothing wrong with prayer, though.

  11. Cory Allen Heidelberger Post author | 2022-01-22

    No, nothing wrong with prayer, although as the great roadside philosopher Tom Joad said, it never brought in no side-meat.

  12. Cory Allen Heidelberger Post author | 2022-01-22

    Noem hasn’t brought in any side-meat for her constituents, either, and Noem Almighty ain’t never raised no wages, except for kin. Noem’s entire career has been virtue-signaling.

  13. jkl 2022-01-22

    And how can you have any pudding, if you don’t eat your meat?

  14. Porter Lansing 2022-01-22

    Your Governor doesn’t handle being told “no”, very well. She’s still the spoiled little girl who, when handed enough money to live the life she chooses (like Don the Con Trump) chose a life of telling others how to live and temper tantrums when she doesn’t get her way.

  15. Guy 2022-01-22

    Porter, a certain spoiled rotten character from the movie, “Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory” comes to mind: Veruca Salt. I’ve never forgotten her temper tantrum throwing song: “I want it all!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!”

  16. Guy 2022-01-22

    Cory, that sounds like a familiar strategy you just alluded to: “But let’s watch: using Noem’s logic, she and her fans could campaign against Will Mortenson, Phil Jensen, and Lana Greenfield by saying they voted with the Radical Left to keep prayer out of schools.”
    The political party revolving around one person who aims to make it completely their party that bends to their will in everything. Wasn’t this recently attempted with disastrous results?

  17. Mark Anderson 2022-01-22

    It’s weird, they should try meditation to start out the day, but of course they would see THAT as religious.

  18. Nick Nemec 2022-01-22

    Noem didn’t care if this bill passed, she just wanted a campaign issue to point to.

  19. 96Tears 2022-01-22

    Sending an egghead professor from California State University – Long Beach (“surf’s up, dude”) to appeal to neanderthals got the result we all expect in Pierre. Worse, as Don points out, Noem’s absence assigned all the importance she really placed on HB 1015 by choosing another frolic in Vegas over her job.

    Had Noem stuck around to pitch HB 1015, she might have scratched the egghead and led the Education Committee in song, demonstrated here by June Carter: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_W02P4X7kRQ

    Now that’s the kinda leadership Dennert, Jensen and Greenfield were hoping to see!

  20. Nick Nemec 2022-01-22

    All hat, no cattle.

  21. mike from iowa 2022-01-22

    At least magats quit saying the ACLU ran jesus out of public schools because they knew all along that was another “big lie.”

  22. Jake 2022-01-22

    And, Nick, not EVEN good looks!

  23. robbinsdale radical 2022-01-22

    This bill provided its purpose for Noem – enhanced her cred with the (gullible and confused) part of America that things enforced prayer in our schools deserves consideration as government policy. “Clickbait” was an apt adjective.

  24. Lui 2022-01-22

    I have always thought short meditation and simple yoga exercises would be a great way to start the day for every child from Kindergarten through 12th. They would have to be taught very simple things and maybe the day would start in peace and eventually end in peace.

  25. Arlo Blundt 2022-01-22

    Well…the correspondent from Robbinsdale is correct. The school prayer is another political ploy, and an empty one at that, by our shallow and manipulative, Governor. Sadly, I look for it to reemerge on the floor of the House.

  26. O 2022-01-22

    Nick is on the money about the campaign value of this issue. That it idd not pass only keeps it alive for the need to “fight” for in the future. There is a fallacy that we all fall into around here believing that Noem, or any GOP leader, wants to run on accomplishments of governance. Nothing could be further from the truth. Nationally, the GOP has abandoned any pretense of actual policy advocacy — much less success in that arena.

  27. mike from iowa 2022-01-22

    Here is the perfect magat bill to replace Noem’s, Florida lege passes bill to ban schools from discussing LGBTQ kids under purview of parental rights.

    https://www.rawstory.com/florida-2656458991/

  28. T 2022-01-22

    “Nothing wrong with prayer” I would tend to agree as long as everyone can bring their “god” and practice into the schools as well.

  29. V 2022-01-23

    Now Kristi Noem can go on Fox and whine about the bill being killed. She’ll spin it into something sinister and NEVER mention that the Legislature is overwhelmingly Republican. Noem should have to pay for such a waste of precious time.

    Hey Nick Nemec, are you in the article about the 100th meridian in Sierra Magazine? If so, I truly enjoyed it. Thanks for representing SD so well!!!!

  30. Richard Schriever 2022-01-23

    To make a PLAY ON PHRASES : GOP = “All campaigning, no governing.”

    “Noem’s entire career has been virtue-signaling.”
    Cory wins the award for Best and Most Direct Analysis of a political career ever.

  31. 96Tears 2022-01-23

    Kristi Noem’s hyper-partisan, dime-deep agenda to pander to the extreme Taliban wing of the national Republican Party may be about to snap her on the ass.

    The movement that propelled the second Trump campaign and the assault on the U.S. Capitol to undermine the peaceful American transfer of power seems ready to move along with Trump or any other tough guy pretender on the political horizon. This legislative session and South Dakota’s current political horizon are a petri dish of what is happening nationally with the rise of white nationalist thuggery.

    The fault lines are evident in who voted against Noem’s prayer in school bill. As Don Pay said earlier, it is very odd in South Dakota to watch the GOP caucus march lockstep against a Republican governor’s signature legislation. My guess is its opponents hope to tear down Noem’s base and set Haugaard up to keep the SDGOP from being distracted by Noem’s silly national ego trip.

    The same message is apparent in the Sioux Falls PRAVDA Leader article on the Ravnsborg impeachment proceedings with some of the most radical elements of the House sniping at Noem’s intervention. They’re not interested in justice or protecting Jason Ravnsborg or helping Marty Jackley’s political agenda. They just want control and the power to piss on whomever and whatever they please, including Kristi Noem.

    I sensed it in the monstrous and traitorous statements of Taliban wave House candidate Pat Baumann and in the national reactions to the walls closing in on Trump and his family with revelations coming from prosecutors in New York and Georgia and the reams of documents in the hands of the January 6th House committee. The monster that stormed the U.S. Capitol and continues to steamroll forward with the help of the election day cops proposal of Gov. Ron DeSantis and the knee-capping of voting rights and reproductive rights to disenfranchise everyday Americans from their everyday rights and access.

    Don’t get me wrong. They loved the joy ride on the coattails of racist candidate Donald Trump since he glided down the golden escalator to his first campaign announcement. And then the Donald rallied the goons on January 6 and said he’d lead them up the steps of the U.S. Capitol to stop the steal … except he went into hiding in the White House for three hours and soon afterward threw his “patriots” under the bus. January 7, 2021, marked the beginning of a turning point. Today, the Donald and his whelps and pals are seeing grand juries into their futures.

    The Trump joy ride is nearly done. Yet the 21st Century American Golem is becoming fully formed and is hungry for more. The white nationalist goons are leery of who’ll steer the car on the next joy ride. Noem might look real purdy in her Lady Godiva cowgirl act in a parade of one, holding the American flag, except for the fact that when the fightin’ was erupting in the House Education Committee, Governor Godiva was on a junket in Las Vegas. This does not instill faith and trust in the Golem.

    The Golem is hungry. It is beginning to stand on its own two feet. The Golem demands someone as hostile and angry and prone to violence as their heroes who hoped to lynch Vice President Pence. It’s shopping for a leader on the next joy ride. Governor Godiva just doesn’t have what they’re hungering for.

  32. grudznick 2022-01-23

    The Golem is a real swell fellow, and a neighbor of mine, but let us hope it is the Conservatives with Common Sense who pick the next leader.

  33. 96Tears 2022-01-23

    Good luck with that, grud. Golem’s shun biscuits and gravy.

  34. Donald Pay 2022-01-23

    96Tears is correct. In Wisconsin we’re seeing the Republican Party split a number of ways on the Trump-inspired effort to “investigate” the 2020 election. They want to be done with it, but they have to placate the crazies. The party is also embarrassed by the constant flow of lies coming out of Trumpist Senator Ron Johnson. They are sick that RoJo decided to break his promise and is now seeking a third Senate term. Noem spent time in Wisconsin in 2020, but she couldn’t carry anyone over the line who wasn’t already expected to win here. The really crazy folks think she’s a lightweight. The smart Republicans know she’s got 5 cent head. She’s going nowhere.

  35. ABC 2022-01-23

    96 Tears, Rock on!

    “Kristi Noem’s hyper-partisan, dime-deep agenda to pander to the extreme Taliban wing of the national Republican Party may be about to snap her on the ass.”

    Dime deep!

    Since she’s operating on a dime, here’s what we can do– (Really!)

    1. Operate on a dollar, 10 times more than her hyper partisan dime! And we can—Vote against her in 2022, or-

    2. Run against her in 2022. Or

    3. Operate a dollar ultra rich business in South Dakota, create ultra prosperous jobs for many people, and drive our employees to the polls in June and November!

    I will do 1 and 3 myself. (20 nickels!)

    We can see clearly. One dollar, let’s go!

  36. 96Tears 2022-01-23

    ABC for Governor! Democrats and independents need to register Republican and vote for Haugaard in the primary. Kristi won’t know what hit her. And nothing kills a movement faster than success.

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