March 20, 2023

A Republican lawmaker just proposed a one-year jail sentence for an absurd religious “offense”

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At least one Republican forgot to read their copy of the U.S. Constitution. A South Dakota state representative named Sue Peterson (R-Sioux Falls) has drafted a bill that will send anyone replicating the official state seal without the reference to god it contains to jail for up to a year, as well as levying a substantial fine.

While it would take a Supreme Court decision to definitively rule on whether such a mandate would violate the constitutionally protected right provided by the first amendment to the Constitution which reads:

“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof;”

it doesn’t take much imagination to interpret the bill as a state endorsement of religion akin to the posting of the ten commandments in a courthouse, an action that the Federal Courts have already ruled as unlawful in a suit brought against former Alabama Judge Roy Moore.

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According to Raw Story, Representative  Peterson has introduced House Bill 1102 that will, “… clarify certain provisions regarding the great seal of South Dakota and to establish a penalty for misrepresentation of the great seal.” The specific misrepresentation that Peterson objects to is the elimination of the phrase “Under God the people rule” which appears on the seal.

The only reason that this even appears to be an issue for Republicans is that they noticed that the version of the seal that is included on state-designed apparel failed to include the phrase. Why Peterson felt the need to criminalize what appears to be either an oversight or Creative license in apparel design rather than simply request that the apparel be corrected in future production runs is a question only Republican political strategists can answer.

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If Rep. Peterson’s bill makes it through the legislative process and becomes law, failure to include the slogan would be punishable by up to a year in jail and/or a fine of up to $2,000. Given that the apparel in question is made by inmates in South Dakota’s women’s prisons, it seems even less sensible to threaten prison terms for the supposed offense.

Rep. Peterson explained her reasoning in submitting the proposed bill with an explanation that was coyly more corporate than religious in its argument :

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“I am aware that there have been misuses of the seal, there were some people who would cut it in half to take artistic license with it. It’s a branding issue and it (the seal) needs to be honored and respected.”

The U.S. Constitution has its own branding issues, and its prohibition against the establishment of a state religion needs to be honored and respected a whole lot more crucially than the state seal of South Dakota. Just sayin’.

Vinnie Longobardo

is the Managing Editor of Washington Press and a 35-year veteran of the TV, mobile, & internet industries, specializing in start-ups and the international media business. His passions are politics, music, and art.

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