South Dakotans Don’t Have A Prayer Against GOP Gov. Kristi Noem’s Anti-Science Religious Bigotry
South Dakota's COVID-19 rates are terrible. Cases continue to climb. But Republican Governor Kristi Noem has a plan, and it is that everyone just needs to pray. In fairness, Noem isn't suggesting prayer as a solution to the pandemic that's ravaging her state, as from what we can tell, she's not interested in COVID-19 solutions at all. She opposes mask mandates, even in schools, and has vowed to fight President Joe Biden's federal vaccine mandate in court. She's basically promoting spread of a serious illness. She's like the Batman villain Poison Ivy at this point.
But Poison Ivy had some good qualities. She at least wasn't a religious bigot.
Last week, Noem took time out of her busy schedule ignoring South Dakota's mounting death toll to speak with David Brody at the obnoxiously named Real America's Voice. She announced she's introducing a First Amendment-shredding bill that would return prayer to public schools. Prayer is not a known defense against COVID-19 infection, but Noem has culture wars to fight and non-religious people to insult.
Putting prayer back in public schools would violate me https://t.co/PD709XHeod— The First Amendment (@The First Amendment) 1631920806.0
NOEM: We've seen our society, our culture, degrade as we've removed God out of our lives [...]. When I was growing up, we spent every Sunday, every night, every Wednesday night in church. Our church family was a part of our life. We read the Bible every day, as a family, together. [...] I don't know if families do that as much anymore, and those Biblical values are learned in the family, and they're learned in church. [...] We in South Dakota have decided to take action to really stand for Biblical principles. [...] I have legislation I'll be proposing this year that will allow us to pray in schools again.
Donald Trump is an on-the-nose personification of a nation in moral and intellectual decline. We are pretty sure he's all seven deadly sins wrapped inside an ill-fitting suit. If we've seen our "society, our culture" degrade, it's at least partially because religious people degraded themselves with their unwavering support for Trump, no matter how consistently awful he proved himself to be.
Noem was born in 1971, not the Gilded Age, and while a Black communist drag queen might've made an attempt on God's life in the mid-1990s, religion is still just as much a part of American culture as it was in the days when Noem and I were rushing home from school to watch "Knight Rider."
Yes, the number of American adults who identify themselves as Christian has declined significantly in the past decade, but that's arguably because of pious assholes like Kristi Noem. If you talk to most people who grew up religious but are longer observant, they'll usually claim it was the bigots who chased them away.
Of course, students can already pray in school if they choose. Mandating prayer isn't "taking a stand for Biblical principles." It's an expression of religious fascism. Noem is a typical religious hypocrite, though. She's moved to ban so-called critical race theory from public universities, but religion is inherently more divisive than teaching kids that racism exists.
According to a Pew Research poll, just 57 percent of white evangelical adults admit to receiving at least one dose of the COVID-19 vaccine, compared to 75 percent of religiously unaffiliated adults. White evangelicals remain a reliable GOP demographic, and they seem to demonstrate no real Christian concern for others. It's the godless liberals who are getting vaccinated in larger numbers, and don't consider wearing a mask an undue burden if it manages to keep their fellow Americans safe.
Noem is following the lead of Florida GOP Governor Ron DeSantis, who signed a bill this summer mandating a moment of silence in schools. These bills are legally dubious, but that's part of the point. It will only endear them to the religious right. Meanwhile, they block mask and vaccine mandates in the name of individual choice.
In a USA Today op-ed, Noem wrote, “I'd encourage Americans to get vaccinated, as I did. But that choice is theirs to make — not the federal government's to make for them." If you're trying to reconcile that position with Noem's stance on marijuana use and now prayer in school, don't bother. She has no consistent set of beliefs, just like her political party.
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Stephen Robinson is a writer and social kibbitzer based in Portland, Oregon. He writes reviews for the A.V. Club and make believe for Cafe Nordo, an immersive theatre space in Seattle. He's also on the board of the Portland Playhouse theatre. His son describes him as a “play typer guy."