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Politics

Lutheran bishop doesn't see need for school prayer legislation

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Governor Kristi Noem is proposing a bill she hopes will bring prayer back to public schools, but the leader of one of the state's largest faith communities doesn't see the need for that kind of legislation.

The governor's office first announced the bill in mid-December, saying it will restore protections for prayer in schools. The bill mandates a moment of silence at the start of each school day.

During her State of the State address on Tuesday, Noem said freedom to worship is key to the nation's foundation.

"Students can choose to reflect on the upcoming day or they can gave a quiet moment," she explained. "They can also exercise their First Amendment right to pray. We will protect the freedom to worship and re-instill a right that has been absent for far too long in our schools." The sentiment was met with applause from lawmakers.

Bishop Constanze Hagmaier of the South Dakota Synod of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America doesn't see the need for such a bill. She said no one can prevent prayer in schools, because prayer is an individual decision.

"Of course, I'm speaking right now from the Christian perspective," she said. "So whether you invite me to pray or whether you don't invite me to pray, you cannot prevent me from praying. So I don't know that the legislation would generally change anything on an individual's prayer life."

The bill says each school district "shall require" students and school employees to have a moment of silence lasting up to one minute each morning that school is in session. However, the bill blocks any school employee from dictating the actions taken by students or other employees during the moment of silence.

The first hearing of the bill in the House Education Committee has not yet been scheduled.