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By Natalie Dunlap July 22, 2021

Kristi Noem 'putting prayer back' in schools? No evidence of that

If Your Time is short

  • Gov. Kristi Noem spoke at an event hosted by a Christian lobbyist group in Des Moines, Iowa, and told the crowd she was putting prayer in South Dakota schools. 
  • No concrete examples exist of how Noem plans to do this or how this would work. 
  • The governor’s office is telling media outlets to "stay tuned" for the governor’s plans.

At a Des Moines, Iowa, summit hosted July 16 by Christian lobbyist group The FAMiLY Leader, religious leaders and Republican politicians spoke on embedding Christianity into the government leadership and policy. 

The general admission crowd paid as much as $75 to see speakers, including the first-in-the-nation presidential precinct caucuses state notable, and potential 2024 Republican presidential candidates such as former Vice President Mike Pence, former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds, and South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem.

When Noem told the crowd, "In South Dakota, I’m putting prayer back in our schools," she was met with applause from attendants. 

But when PolitiFact emailed Ian Fury, Noem’s communication’s director, to inquire what legislation or policy she was referring to that would bring prayer into public schools, he did not provide a clear example. 

"Stay tuned for the Governor’s plans," Fury wrote in an email.

Fury provided a similar response to a request for comment from KOTA, a television station in Rapid City, South Dakota. 

No plan has been produced, though. In a phone call with PolitiFact, Fury said he didn’t have an approximate date of when more information about the governor’s plans would come out. 

"I don’t have anything more to share with you on those plans at this time," he said, when asked if those plans would be in the form of an executive order or a request to the South Dakota Legislature. 

The U.S. Supreme Court ruled in a landmark 1962 case, Engel v. Vitale, that schools and their representatives could not organize or lead organized prayers in public schools. However, the ruling does not prohibit silent, private praying in a public school.

South Dakota allows students a moment of silence, when they can feel free to pray or reflect, but officials in public schools are not allowed to impose prayer. Some Christian groups advocate for prayer spaces in schools, where students voluntarily can visit or teachers can hold lessons, but the specifics of how Noem would plan to put prayer in the schools are not clear.  

Our ruling 

Though Noem’s statement could be interpreted as sharing her agenda in the next legislative session, telling a crowd of Christians that "I’m putting prayer back in our schools" is misleading. No specific policy exists, nor does any specific proposal or a timeline for producing one. 

That could change if Noem produces a proposal, the Legislature approves it, and it passes muster in court. Until then, however, we rate this claim to be False.

Our Sources

Kristi Noem, in Des Moines, Iowa, July 16, 2021

Tickets for The FAMiLY Leadership Summit 2021

Email exchange with Ian Fury, Gov. Kristi Noem’s communications director, July 20, 2021

"Governor Kristi Noem hints at putting prayer back in public schools," KOTA TV, July 20, 2021

Phone call with Ian Fury, July 21, 2021

"Facts and Case Summary – Engel v. Vitale," U.S.

"Engel et al. v. Vitale et al.,

"Prayer in Public Schools,"by Hana M. Ryman and J. Mark Alcorn, The First Amendment Encyclopedia

"In U.S., Support for Daily Prayer in Schools Dips Slightly," by Rebecca Rifkin, Gallup News, Sept. 25, 2014

"What are Prayer Spaces?"

South Dakota Prayer in Public Schools Law,

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Kristi Noem 'putting prayer back' in schools? No evidence of that

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