- Associated Press - Thursday, May 15, 2014

Rapid City Journal, Rapid City, May 11, 2014

Prayer need not be divisive

The recent U.S. Supreme Court decision to allow prayers before government meetings quieted what had been a sometimes contentious debate over the appropriateness of public prayer.

In Rapid City and elsewhere, threats of lawsuits were received from groups opposed to public prayer as a breach of the U.S. Constitution’s First Amendment. Although the phrase “separation of church and state” does not appear in the First Amendment, it has been interpreted by some as intending to bar religious expression such as prayer at government functions.

The Supreme Court’s decision settles the argument between those who support prayer in the public square and those who are opposed.

The court’s acceptance of public prayer validates the Rapid City Council’s decision last year to defy threats of a lawsuit if its tradition of praying before council meetings didn’t stop.

In January 2013, the Rapid City Council received a letter from Freedom From Religion Foundation threatening legal action if the council didn’t end the practice of an invocation before meetings. Council members voiced their support for the prayers, which are offered by members of the Rapid City Ministerial Association. The council also asked for the city attorney to draw up a policy on prayer.

The proposed prayer policy was rejected by the city council, and the prayers have continued.

Meanwhile, several groups offered to pay the city’s legal bills if it was sued by the Freedom From Religion group.

The Supreme Court’s decision to allow prayers before meetings ends Freedom From Religion’s threat of litigation and validates the Rapid City Council’s support of its prayer tradition.

We are thankful that the Supreme Court has removed the possibility of a lawsuit that would cost taxpayers to fight.

We never saw a problem with public prayer. If some people object to prayers spoken before government meetings, we take note that no one is being forced to participate in the prayers and are free to leave if they so choose.

There are many divisive issues that face Rapid City and other communities; the fact that some people voluntarily bow their heads in prayer before discussing these important matters should not be made contentious.

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The Daily Republic, Mitchell, May 13, 2014

Stand up for our kids and support healthy school lunches

We’ve heard the complaints about the new school lunches.

The kids don’t like the healthier food.

The kids don’t get enough to eat.

Too much of the food is wasted.

Most recently, we learned from Mitchell school officials that more than 10 cents might have to be added to the $2.40 lunch charge for elementary students, and the $2.60 charge for high school students.

This is a classic case of being careful what you wish for. People in this country have been demanding a solution to childhood obesity for years. Now that something is being done about it, nobody seems to like it.

We have a request for students, parents and school officials: Don’t overreact to the complaints.

Ultimately, we all want kids to eat healthier. We’ve encountered a bit of a rocky road trying to make that happen in schools, but so what? Who ever said anything worth doing would be easy?

From our perspective, all the challenges posed by healthier school lunches are worth the end result. Kids will not grow up to be healthy adults unless we show them how to do it. We can’t keep stuffing mass-produced, government commodity junk down their throats and then expect that they’ll wake up one day in adulthood and suddenly start eating fruits and vegetables. The right habits have to be formed at a young age.

The problems with healthier school lunches will probably continue for a while. It’s going to take some time for the kids to adjust. It’ll take time for the government and the school lunch workers to iron out the kinks with portions and menu choices. It’ll take a bigger investment by parents and taxpayers to pay for the healthier food.

In the end, it’ll be worth it. A country full of healthier people will place fewer costly demands on the health care system, and fewer public resources will be needed to care for low-income and elderly people struggling with diabetes, heart disease and other side effects of obesity.

Mostly, though, it’s worth it because our kids deserve the best we can give them. A few bucks a day isn’t too much to ask in exchange for healthier children.

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Argus Leader, Sioux Falls, May 10, 2014

S.D. must protect its foster kids

Too many times, state laws and agency practices shut South Dakotans out of important channels of information.

One example is in the foster care system. The state’s Department of Social Services operates the program, recruits individuals and licenses them.

But when there is a complaint against a foster parent for victimizing or abusing a child, the DSS also is the agency that determines whether the complaint proceeds to investigation. That determination process is closed to the public.

If DSS investigators believe there is cause to investigate further, that investigation is conducted by an outside third party, which is a good step.

But subsequent hearings on the charges also are closed to the public. And when a decision is reached, no one can learn about the results because state law prohibits DSS staffers from discussing the cases - even those that result in criminal charges.

With all this secrecy, how do we know our system works? Are there children whose voices are not being heard here?

Some worry that opening the process to public view will stigmatize the child or families involved. In Minnesota, officials say they heard those concerns when they conducted a pilot project to open the foster-care complaint process. There were concerns about fewer people reporting abuse and involved families pressing for court hearings to avoid the public sessions. But neither has occurred, according to Judy Nord, a lawyer with the Minnesota Judicial Branch.

After the pilot project, the state approved opening the investigative procedures to the public.

“The hearings are open. The records are open, and we haven’t seen any problems,” she said in a recent Argus Leader story.

Other states also provide much more transparency in foster-care investigations.

Greater transparency will allow individuals who can shed light on potential abuse cases the opportunity to do so. That’s important for the accused as well as the accusers in these cases.

Children taken from their homes and placed in foster care must depend on the state to protect them. As taxpayers, we have a responsibility to make sure that they are safe.

The vast majority of foster parents are honest, ethical, caring people who perform an extremely valuable service in opening their homes and hearts to scared and vulnerable children.

But in the rare occasion when that is not the case, taxpayers also have the responsibility to do everything they can to vigorously investigate complaints. Openness is the key to knowing that the process is working.

To do this important job right, the state might have to invest more money in the DSS. If that is the price of peace of mind for dependent children, then that should be a priority.

We should take every effort we can to ensure that children taken into foster care in this state are protected - especially from those who have promised to be their caretakers.

Copyright © 2016 The Washington Times, LLC.

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