South Dakota’s Republican Gov. Kristi Noem has introduced a bill that would allow students in public schools to pray every morning at school if they so choose despite pushback from secular groups to similar bills in other states.
On Monday, Noem released the text of legislation that would “require a moment of silence in schools to begin the school day.”
In a statement, Noem shared her belief that “every student deserves the opportunity to begin their day with a calm, silent moment.”
“I hope students will take this opportunity to say a quick prayer or reflect on their upcoming day. However they choose to take advantage of this time, it will be beneficial to students and teachers alike,” she added.
The bill calls for all public school districts in the state to “provide students and teachers the opportunity each morning that school is in session to have a moment of silence lasting up to one minute.”
Potential uses for this moment of silence include “voluntary prayer, reflection, meditation or other quiet, respectful activity.”
The legislation would mandate that “no school employee may dictate the action to be taken by students or teachers during the moment of silence” and that “no student may interfere with another student’s engagement in the moment of silence.” It also clarifies that the language in the bill shouldn’t “be construed to permit schools to conduct the moment of silence as a religious exercise.”
The legislation contends that a moment of silence at the beginning of the school day is necessary to provide students and teachers with a “reprieve from the frenzy of daily life and to set a tone of decorum that will be conducive to learning.”
South Dakota is one of several states where elected officials are pushing for a moment of silence in schools.
An Ohio Senate bill introduced in October would establish a moment of silence in schools.
In June, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis signed a bill into law that would give students a daily opportunity to “reflect and be able to pray as they see fit.”
Separation of church and state advocacy groups see the “moment of silence” measures as causes for concern.
The Freedom From Religion Foundation, which advocates for a strict separation of church and state, wrote a letter to the Ohio Senate criticizing Senate Bill 248 as an “unconstitutional promotion of religion.”
The Wisconsin-based advocacy group expressed particular opposition to the language of the bill calling on each public school district to “provide for a moment of silence each school day for prayer, reflection, or meditation upon a moral, philosophical, or patriotic theme.”
FFRF Staff Attorney Ryan Jayne maintained that moment of silence bills that contain an explicit reference to prayer — such as the bills in Ohio, Florida and South Dakota — run afoul of U.S. Supreme Court precedent in the 1985 Wallace v. Jaffree decision. The court struck down an Alabama law setting aside time for “meditation or voluntary prayer” during the school day.
“The addition of ‘or voluntary prayer’ indicates that the State intended to characterize prayer as a favored practice,” the decision stated.
The Supreme Court concluded that “such an endorsement is not consistent with the established principle that the government must pursue a course of complete neutrality toward religion.” Jayne argued that the Ohio bill’s mention of prayer before other potential uses for the moment of silence makes “the endorsement even more clear.”
“There can be no serious doubt that the primary intent of this bill is to inject religion into the public school day, which is an improper legislative purpose,” he wrote. “Mandatory moment of silence bills are a trend across the country and invariably they are described in terms of promoting religion.”
DeSantis described the Florida moment-of-silence bill as an initiative allowing students to “pray as they see fit” and one that counters attempts to “push God out of every institution.” The headline included with the statement from Noem’s office about the South Dakota bill characterizes the legislation as an effort to “restore protections for prayer in the classroom.”
Ryan Foley is a reporter for The Christian Post. He can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org