Bibles distributed at a meeting to legislators had the state’s seal printed on the cover.
Participants of a South Dakota Legislative Coffee meeting held on February 16 received copies of the Bible stamped with the state seal. The event, sponsored by League of Women Voters Pierre, was attended by three legislators, Senator Jeff Monroe and District 24 representatives Mary Duvall and Tim Rounds. The reaction on receiving the state seal-branded Bible varied among the three lawmakers. Rounds claimed he did not unbox the gift and Duvall expressed unease with the state seal embossed on a religious tome. The only legislator to welcome the state seal-embossed Bible was Monroe who said he loved the present.
The gifted Bibles were printed by the Capitol Commission. As per Jarvis Wipf, the “state minister” of the South Dakota chapter of Capitol Commission, the ministry received official permission to use the state seal from Shantel Krebs, the former Secretary of State for South Dakota. The Capitol Commission identifies itself as a North Carolina-headquartered Christian ministry.
The move has earned a severe backlash from those who espouse separation of church and state. The Freedom From Religion Foundation (FFRF) has urged South Dakota to rescind its permission given to the Capitol Commission to put the state seal on Bibles. The FFRF reminded Steve Barnett, the Secretary of State of South Dakota, that government offices cannot endorse religion. Colin McNamara, the Legal Fellow of the FFRF, wrote to Barnett, pointing out that permitting the printing of the state seal on Bible covers sends a definitive message of the South Dakota Government endorsing the Bible. The FFRF legal specialist said the only purpose of the seal is to convey state support and endorsement and use of a state’s seal must be regulated.
About one in five residents of South Dakota do not identify as a Christian. The FFRF wrote that it is the decision of the Secretary of State as to whether he will permit the prestige of the state to be taken over by a single religion. If it does so, he warned, with a quote from the U.S. Supreme Court, then 20 percent of the state population are “outsiders, not full members of the political community.”
Annie Laurie Gaylor, the co-president of the FFRF, noted that the Bible asks to kill non-believers, stubborn sons, and gays. The Christian book also rails against women who transgress its double standard teachings. The Government of South Dakota has no reason to endorse such messages.