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Bibles distributed with South Dakota state seal raises concerns

PIERRE, S.D. - Several South Dakota lawmakers received Bibles stamped with the South Dakota state seal that were produced by a nationwide religious nonprofit group.

District 24 lawmakers attending a legislative coffee meeting sponsored by the League of Women Voters Pierre on Saturday, Feb. 9, said they were among those who received those Bibles produced by Raleigh, N.C-based Capitol Commission.

Rep. Tim Rounds said he never unboxed his copy, and Rep. Mary Duvall expressed some discomfort with the seal being used on a religious text. Monroe, though, said “Mine’s all marked up. I love it.”

Jarvis Wipf, the state minister for Capitol Commission, claimed with Duvall that no state funds were used in producing the books. Capitol Commission has state ministers in 23 states, including South Dakota.

The use of the state seal is controlled by the Secretary of State’s office. According to Wipf, Capitol Commission received permission to use the seal’s image from former Secretary of State Shantel Krebs in December 2018. “They were intended to be a unique gift for the legislators.” Wipf said.

Several citizens expressed concern over the Bibles, and how their incorporation of the state seal could violate the principle of Separation of Church and State.

Other critics included members of the Pierre Area Center for Equality (PACE), a local LGBTQ advocacy group. They said they attended the meeting to address pending legislation they saw as discriminatory to the transgender community, but added that religious items being emblazoned with government symbols could bode poorly for the community as well.

“My greatest [current issue] of importance is separation of Church and State,” PACE member Michelle Bowman said. “Because that’s going to affect my reproductive rights, LGBT rights… I mean, it affects all of it.”

Monroe did not comment on whether he thought marking a religious book with a state seal was appropriate or not, and did not see his using one as being a tacit approval.

“I have no problem with [the Bible]… People get to distribute what they want, basically, to our desks.” he said.

As Capitol Commission is a nonprofit entity, the Bibles are likely protected as an artistic use of the state seal under state law.