Perhaps instead of galloping back to Las Vegas this week, Governor Kristi Noem should have stayed home and worked to pass her legislative agenda. House Bill 1015Governor Noem’s school prayer mandate, failed yesterday in its first committee hearing.
The Noem team weakened their chances of winning their ‘big push’ to put prayer back in schools by conducting their House Education testimonial with Guillaume Jeynes, professor of education at California State University Long Beach. Calling from California, Dr. Jeynes began with a long rambling about school shootings. He then quoted Bill Clinton as an authority on the merits of school prayer: “…nothing in the First Amendment converts our public schools into religion-free zones, or requires that all religious expression be left to the school gate.
Alas, for those who score at home, Clinton memo from August 1995 where Jeyner draws his only line actually against warrants like HB 1015 as unnecessary and inappropriate. [I italicize the line Jeyner quotes, then bold the lines that torpedo HB 1015]:
However, as our courts have reaffirmed, Nothing in the First Amendment converts our public schools into religion-free zones, nor does it require that all religious expression be left at the school gate.. Although the government cannot use schools to coerce the conscience of our students or to convey official endorsement of religiongovernment schools also cannot 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 allows — and protects — a greater degree of religious expression in public schools than many Americans can now comprehend. The Ministries of Justice and Education have informed me that, although application may depend on specific factual contexts and will require careful consideration in particular cases, the following principles are among those that apply to the religious expression in our schools:
Student Prayer and Religious Discussion: The Establishment Clause of the First Amendment does not prohibit purely private religious discourse by the students. Pupils therefore have the same right to participate in individual or group prayers and religious discussions during the school day as they do to participate in other comparable activities. For example, students may read their Bibles or other scriptures, say grace before meals, and pray before tests to the same extent that they may engage in comparable non-disruptive activities. Local school authorities have significant discretion to impose order rules and other pedagogical restrictions on student activities, but they cannot structure or administer such rules to discriminate against religious activity or speech.
In fgeneral, students can pray in a non-disruptive way when not engaged in school activities or classes, and subject to the rules that normally apply in the applicable context. Specifically, the students in informal settings, such as cafeterias and hallways, may pray and discuss their religious views with one another, subject to the same rules of order that apply to other student activities and speech. Students can also talk to their peers and attempt to persuade them on religious matters, just as they do on political matters. School officials, however, should intervene to stop student speech that constitutes harassment directed at a student or group of students.
Students may also participate in before or after school events with a religious content, such as “see you at the flagpole” rallies, under the same conditions as they may participate in other non-school activities on the premises. from school. School officials cannot discourage or 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 listening, or to compel other students to participate. Teachers and school administrators should ensure that no student is in any way coerced into participating in religious activity [President Bill Clinton, memo on religious expression in public schools, August 1995].
HB 1015 is not required because the First Amendment already allows students to voluntarily pray in school. HB 1015 is inappropriate because, as the pleas of Jeyner and Noem make clear, it is an effort by the state to encourage students to pray, and the Establishment Clause does not permit the state to promote a religion.
The Noem team then sent one of their imported politicians from Beltway, Allen Cambon, to recite the office line about HB 1015. But later, during questioning, Rep. Mike Stevens (R-18 / Yankton), member of House Education Look HB 1015 arrogant and disconnected:
Rep. Mike Stevens, R-Yankton, asked Allen Cambon, the governor’s political adviser, “How many schools have you contacted about this?”
Cambon replied, “We spoke with the office of the (state) Ministry of Education. We have seen that they do this in many other states. So the governor felt it was a good opportunity to restore a sense of decorum and civic appreciation to our schools, and that’s why we introduced the bill.
“My question was,” Stevens told him, “how many school districts did you contact?”
“We haven’t spoken directly with school districts with this bill,” Cambon replied.
“You haven’t spoken to anyone?” Stevens asked.
“It’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].
If the Noem team had consulted with schools, they would have heard what lobbyists for school administrators, the teachers’ union, the big school group, the United School Association of South Dakota and school boards told House Education: as President Clinton said in 1995, the First Amendment already gives students and staff the freedom to pray silently at any time in school, without any legislative mandate. Rob Monson of the South Dakota School Administrators led the opponent’s testimony with a simple and effective demonstration of his point. He paused before taking the microphone, then told the committee he had used that moment to pray for the defeat of HB 1015. He said neither he nor any student needed a legislative mandate. to give them time to practice their religion:
Prayer has never been expelled from public schools, nor has it ever left. While 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 boasted of individual freedoms. You didn’t tell anyone to wear a mask. You didn’t tell anyone to get vaccinated. In fact, most actions lean more the other way with individual freedoms. Do you really want to pivot on this now and dictate a minute of silence in our public schools? [Monson, 2022.01.21]
Unlike the Noem administration, South Dakota Education Association lobbyist Jeremiah M. Murphy spoke with a teacher, who works extensively with elementary school children. He asked how she would enforce a one-minute moment of silence with the second-graders. She said she would ask the children to lay their heads on their desks so they weren’t distracted by looking at their classmates. Then Murphy read what he called this “curious” bill and noticed what I noticed when I read Noem’s press release on the bill in December: HB 1015 prohibits any school employee to dictate the actions to be taken during the moment of silence. Murphy said that HB 1015 thus invites a moment of anarchy, especially from first-graders freed from teacher direction.
Murphy noted that the teacher he spoke to said she already used moments of silence all the time to calm the kids down. Teachers already have that authority, Murphy said, “So I’m just curious…why would we create a meditation mandate to say stop…from top to bottom, at Pierre we know what is best? You people from Alexandria, Mitchell or Parker, you need direction from Pierre on how to get there.
House Education member Will Mortenson (R-24/Pierre) voiced his opposition to HB 1015 in an opinion column written ahead of the hearing in which he ranked this school prayer bill as one of dozens of clickbait suggestions before this 2022 Parliament. Like Murphy and unlike Noem, Mortenson has spoken with teachers and school boards and heard that this state mandate is unnecessary:
When I spoke to school boards about this, I asked if a teacher could hold a minute of silence in class right now. The answer – yes. Also, they told me, a principal could make it a policy for his school or the superintendent of his school district. Finally, school boards are fully authorized to pass this resolution, if they believe it would help our children. If it’s 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 future problem that HB1005 solves. Instead, teachers told me that the bill is impractical. I’m also concerned that it will take time and focus on teaching or cause unforeseen headaches for teachers and students.
Thus, common sense dictates opposition to HB1005. It’s a great sounding idea, but once I think about it, I’m not sure it will do any 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, poorly written, unnecessary and arguably unconstitutional mandate motivated by a politician’s urgent need to deliver on a botched campaign promise. But some of the quirkier members of the committee, including Rep. Drew Dennert (R-3/Aberdeen), Rep. Phil Jensen (R-33/Rapid City) and House Education President 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 spent talking to the public in Las Vegas, she might have been able to write a better bill and get more support. educators and members of her own party for her. education agenda.