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House education committee kills Gov. Kristi Noem’s moment of silence and prayer bill

Morgan Matzen

| Sioux Falls Argus Leader

The House Education Committee voted 9-6 Friday to kill Gov. Kristi Noem’s proposed moment of silence bill that she said would restore prayer in schools in South Dakota.

As it was written, the bill required students and all school employees, not just teachers, to have up to one minute each morning to engage in “voluntary prayer, reflection, meditation or other quiet, respectful activity.”

School employees wouldn’t have been allowed to dictate what action students took, or how they took action. Students also couldn’t interfere with other students’ engagement in the moment of silence. Schools also could not conduct the moment of silence as a religious exercise.

Opponents of the bill testified Friday that students can already pray in schools, and that unnecessary legislation should not be created to place such a mandate on schools, which already balance many regulations and procedures.

“Is there anything stopping kids from praying now? You have a very clear protection for that: the South Dakota Constitution,” Wade Pogany said, representing the Associated School Boards of South Dakota.

In his opposition statement, Rob Monson, representing School Administrators of South Dakota, went up to the podium and took a moment of silence before addressing the committee.

Monson said that moment was his prayer that the committee would vote against the bill, and that he did that without anyone telling him to do so, similar to what students can already do in schools.

“No one other than me can control my thoughts,” he said.

Allen Cambon, representing the governor’s office, had argued in committee that the moment of silence could easily be rolled into school schedules before or after the Pledge of Allegiance. Cambon said the state has clear authority and precedent to set minimum educational standards such as this one.

However, Cambon said schools that don’t comply with the moment of silence would have to report that in accreditation reviews with the South Dakota Department of Education.

Lawmakers questioned the governor’s office on whether it had consulted with school districts on the bill before bringing it; it hadn’t, Cambon said, rather just with DOE officials. They also asked several questions about how it would be enforced, which presented some gray areas.

Rep. Will Mortenson had asked if the moment of silence could be only one half of a second, which Cambon said would be permissible, but was unsure how that would be enforced.

Rep. Sue Peterson had motioned to send the bill to the House floor with a recommendation it pass, but Rep. Mike Stevens made a substitute motion to kill the bill, calling it an “answer looking for a problem.”

Reps. Sydney Davis, Drew Dennert, Lana Greenfield, Erin Healy, Phil Jensen, Jennifer Keintz, Paul Miskimins, Will Mortenson and Mike Stevens voted to kill the bill.

Further proponents included William Jeynes, a professor at California State University; a representative from Concerned Women for America and a representative from Family Heritage Alliance Action.

Other opponents included the South Dakota Education Association, the large school group and the South Dakota United School Association.

This content was originally published here.

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