South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem (R) believes too many critics misunderstand the First Amendment, particularly regarding the presence of faith in the public square.
“I have been, over the last 10 years, just constantly surprised by the amount of people who think that religion and prayer cannot be in our schools,” Noem recently told “The Prodigal Stories Podcast.” “And that that is what our Constitution and Founders intended, which is not true whatsoever.”
The governor said the real purpose of the constitutional language surrounding religious freedom was to ensure “our religion could not be unduly burdened by the government.”
Noem maintains Americans’ “freedom of religion is incredibly important,” a stance at the baseline of her recent legislative journey to try to protect prayer in public schools.
A now-defunct bill Noem championed, titled “A Moment of Silence,” would have created a moment during which students could “pray in schools at the start of every school day,” or simply just reflect on the day ahead. The measure was shot down in committee by Noem’s fellow Republicans.
She said it was unfortunate to see members of her own party derail the prayer effort, detailing her belief that the public school system deserves to be a place where such freedoms are defended and clarified.
“I think that it was a discussion necessary to have in our public school systems,” Noem said. “It would have allowed them to have a moment of silence every day that gave the students an opportunity to reflect, pray, meditate, have a moment where they found a purpose in how they were going to approach their day.”
Noem said she wanted every administrator, teacher, and student to know they are free to pray in schools personally — and, despite the bill being blocked in the state’s GOP-dominated House Education Committee, the governor has no plans to drop the effort.
“I’ll continue to bring this issue because I think it’s important to have these protections in place for our students,” she said.
Noem also tackled a plethora of other matters during the podcast, candidly addressing her political future, ideological stances, and other governance issues.
She was remarkably frank about the legislative clashes between her and other Republicans, divulging her belief that some fellow GOP members potentially “don’t embrace” the same “kind of conservatism” she does.
“I may be a little more conservative than the state is — I only won my last race by 3 points,” she said. “I brought a lot of bills that embraced conservative ideals and values. … I’ve been very proactive on pro-life issues and gone to bat defending innocent life.”
The intensity and scrutiny Noem receives as a politician and a public figure doesn’t necessarily comport with her personality type, she said.
“It is hard because my spirit is not one to be in conflict. I hate conflict. My family says all the time it’s interesting I ended up in this job,” she said. “I grew up dreaming of being a rancher, and chasing cows, and riding horses, and hunting, and how I ended up where I am today is a very strange turn of events for me.”
But Noem is resolute, saying she feels compelled to chase the truth and must fight the political battles to which she’s called.
“I have to live with myself. And I have to be OK with the person I am and who I told the voters I was,” she said. “Keeping my word to them is more important than necessarily disagreeing with other people who are in elected office.”
Underscoring the level of attention given to measures and proposals, the governor said she weighs each bill quite carefully, imploring her staff to conduct a thorough analysis of each piece of legislation that crosses her desk.
Noem asks the central question: “What does this bill mean for the next generation?”
One of the biggest curiosities around Noem surrounds her political future. After many conservatives praised her approach to COVID-19 — a response less focused on mandates and more on personal responsibility — questions have emerged about her potential presidential candidacy in 2024.
The rising GOP star was forthcoming when asked if she was aiming for the White House. After quipping that there are already 48 people who “want to be president,” Noem answered the ever-bubbling curiosity.
“I do not have a desire to be president. I have a desire to do the job that’s in front of me right now that I’m called to do,” she said. “I want to be obedient to whatever God has called me to do, and I want to live a life of significance. … our lives should matter.”