- Associated Press - Monday, April 8, 2019

Argus Leader, Sioux Falls, April 5

Why is state government sanctioning Christianity?

For those paying attention, it appears that Christianity is being thrust upon South Dakotans in a more state-sanctioned manner these days. The reasons behind that are worth examining.

Gov. Kristi Noem signed into law last month a bill that requires public schools to prominently display the national motto, “In God We Trust,” starting in 2019-20. A prominent location is defined as a school entryway, cafeteria or other common area where students are likely to see it.

It’s reasonable to view this as an attempt to formalize Christianity as the state’s official religion in the eyes of those students, which violates the “establishment clause” of the First Amendment.

That clause forbids government entities from establishing an official religion or elevating one religion over another, which means South Dakota’s state leaders have put their school districts on shaky constitutional ground.

Maybe that’s why the legislature added language declaring that if displaying “In God We Trust” leads to a lawsuit, the attorney general will provide legal representation at no cost to the local district or school board.

If it sounds like South Dakota is bucking for a fight, perhaps mindful of a more conservative-leaning U.S. Supreme Court, they’re certainly not alone. Six states passed “In God We Trust” bills into law last year, and South Dakota was among 10 that either introduced or passed such legislation in 2019.

This is part of a national effort called “Project Blitz,” spurred by conservative Christian political groups who are pushing model legislation and other evangelical-based directives on receptive state capitals, with an eye toward greater national influence.

One such group, Capitol Commission, even handed out Bibles stamped with the South Dakota state seal at a legislative coffee in Pierre in February, a gesture state minister Jarvis Wipf called a “unique gift” for lawmakers.

The justification for “In God We Trust” legislation is that the Supreme Court has ruled in favor of using the phrase on U.S. currency and as a national motto due to “ceremonial deism” in those contexts, meaning they have become customary enough to be deemed non-religious.

But bringing the phrase into public schools is more complicated, as evidenced by Supreme Court rulings that have struck down organized prayer at school assemblies and football games as unconstitutional.

“Anything that might send a message to our children that you have to be a Christian to be a full American is extremely problematic,” said Amanda Tyler, executive director of the Baptist Joint Committee for Religious Liberty, which is fighting against the recent spate of legislation.

More disturbing is that conservative Christian groups pushing these bills view “In God We Trust” as a preliminary step. Some states have moved to the next stage by seeking to pass “Bible literacy” bills, which allow students in public high schools to study the Old and New Testaments. President Trump weighed in on these bills in January, calling them “great.”

Notably, the faith-based fervor of this movement comes at a time when organized religion has become less prevalent in American society.

The share of Americans who say they are “absolutely certain” God exists decreased from 71 percent in 2007 to 63 percent in a recent Pew Research Center study. The percentages who say they pray every day, attend religious services regularly and consider religion to be very important in their lives have also declined.

While South Dakota still has an overwhelmingly Christian population, times are changing. The Sioux Falls School District has become increasingly diverse, with 90 different languages spoken among its student body. Policies or symbols that exclude other faiths or alienate non-believers violate a fundamental mandate of publicly funded institutions.

This is not to say that Christianity is not part of the fabric of our society. The prevalence of faith-based groups and their tireless efforts to promote spiritual and community growth is impossible to ignore.

But religion at its core is a personal pursuit, meant to be shared with family and like-minded congregations. The trouble occurs when it is thrust upon those with different beliefs or no religious inclination at all. The day we make those people feel less a part of society is the day we lose track of the values that our country was built upon.

“I contemplate with sovereign reverence that act of the whole American people which declared that their legislature should ‘make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof,’ thus building a wall of separation between church and state,” wrote Thomas Jefferson in 1802.

There’s no telling what he might have thought of Noem’s decision to declare a Statewide Day of Prayer this Sunday as a means of “praying for the well-being” of those affected by recent flooding throughout the region.

It’s quite possible that Jefferson would have pointed out that Sunday is already a day of prayer and suggested a day of robust volunteerism instead.


Rapid City Journal, April 4

Falling Rock: Fatalities just ahead

“Why Die?”

A decorated “X marks the spot” road fatality reminder - Someone died here doing exactly what you’re doing now - pokes up along state Highway 44 about 50 feet from the entrance to Falling Rock Road.

Turn onto Falling Rock Road, and two signs prohibit campfires and off-road vehicles. Farther up the dirt path, more signs advise “No fireworks.”

One more sign is needed: “Use caution! Since 1985, at least nine people have died here from falls.”

Might that tighten the grip of a parent’s hand? Awaken a photographer focused only on flowing Rapid Creek far below? Remind someone with impaired balance that a stumble across these spectacular jagged, rocky ledges might be the final trip?

Sunday’s tragic fall of 6-year-old Pierre girl Sadie Whitetwin at Falling Rock, just west of Rapid City, should be met with more than prayers and condolences, more than additional lamentations from Forest Service officials over potential liability issues. The well-worn path to the cliff’s edge is on public land in the Black Hills National Forest, which has long resisted adding safety features.

One trek through a pile of Falling Rock Journal news clippings uncovers numerous instances of fatal falls, serious non-fatal falls and news stories or editorials explaining why little or nothing should be done. A Forest Service spokesman said Monday that officials “won’t be able to provide a statement at this time,” but ample arguments for doing nothing have been included in past reports. It’s time we reconsider.

One argument states the high number of fatal accidents at Falling Rock occurs not because it’s more dangerous than other Black Hills locations but because it’s easily accessible and more frequently visited. Actually, that’s an explanation for why it is more dangerous, why so many people die there. Easy access to the site invites more children, more inexperienced hikers. It’s why more eyes would fall upon a cautionary sign.

A second argument: If signs were posted to advise the public about the danger at Falling Rock, the federal government could then become liable for accidents on federal land not marked as dangerous. If that’s true, how do highway departments get away with their signs: Dangerous curve ahead? Blind intersection? Falling rock?

Nobody wants a sign posted every 15 feet along every dangerous cliff. Nobody wants a fence enclosing every precipice. And nobody wants a “Dangerous intersection” sign at every crossing. They might, however, want a warning sign near the one intersection where crashes have killed someone, on average, every four years.

Might a warning sign be vandalized? Sure. Aren’t others? But how much does a sign cost? Compare that with the cost of recovering a body. Compare it with the value of a single child.

Cliffs, like highways, are inherently dangerous. People must assume responsibility for risk whenever they venture upon either. In both cases, personal responsibility plays the largest role in individual safety. But that’s not to say people cannot be provided a little help, given a small reminder or even a bit of historical context - nine deaths in 35 years.

Locals know about the dangers, but in this case we have a child from Pierre. Had the family asked longtime residents: Is there a place in the Black Hills where people continually fall to their deaths, most of us would respond, “Oh yeah, Falling Rock. Bunches of them over the years. Everybody who lives here knows it.”

What if a sign were erected to offer that warning?

Will a sign prevent all fatal or serious falls? No. Accidents happen, and laws cannot prevent people from doing foolish things. But at the current rate, we can expect another serious fall within two years, with a fatal fall two years later. Most falls occur in April, May and June.

Should we just sit by, do absolutely nothing, and look forward to tragedies around 2023, 2027, 2031, 2035 …?


Aberdeen American News, April 6

Young workers are vital to our business community

Everyone looks forward to new restaurants coming to town.

However, few seem to want to work at them.

That was one of the reasons Max & Erma’s co-owner Mark McNeary gave about why he and the other owners decided to close the restaurant. He spoke with the American News earlier this week, stating that keeping a full staff has been an issue for a long time.

Not only is that sad, it’s also a little mind-boggling.

As of January, the state Bureau of Labor Statistics put Aberdeen’s unemployment rate at 3.2 percent.

That’s very low. But there are still plenty of folks looking for work. And if that’s the case, why are business owners constantly looking for help?

Is it because these jobs don’t have benefits? Is it because they aren’t “good enough?” Do they not pay enough? Is it the hours? Do potential workers have other priorities? Do people have too many other commitments?

With three high schools and two colleges in Aberdeen, one would think that jobs, especially those that only require part-time hours, would be filled almost as soon as they’re posted.

But they’re not.

Maybe high school- and college-aged students can step up to help.

And maybe the burden of showing young people the importance of an earned wage is our job as parents, guardians, educators and community members.

One of the reasons part-time work is hard to fill is that those jobs often don’t offer benefits. But most students below the age of 26 are still on their parents’ insurance, which should help.

Students are very busy these days with after-school sports and other extracurricular activities - but don’t they want their own spending cash?

Jobs in the restaurant business aren’t always easy. And they’re definitely not glamorous. But for someone looking to get a job for the first time, there is so much that can be learned from the hospitality industry.

And those lessons can be carried over to a career.

Working in a busy restaurant takes a great deal of organization. From numerous tables each requesting different items to keeping the cash register balanced, a server must keep an organized list of who needs what and when. Knowing how to keep priorities in line is something that employers look for.

Time management is also a critical skill that students can learn in the service industry. There’s no better way to hone your craft than knowing how much time you have to get one table’s drinks before another table’s food is ready to be served.

Another essential lesson is customer service. It’s easy to get frustrated at the woman who demands a very intricate order or the man who wants to use his expired coupons. Learning how to handle these situations and keep the customer happy is an incredible life lesson.

We can’t dismiss other basic lessons, either:

- Clearing tables teaches the value of cleanliness and picking up after yourself.

- Handling money is a great responsibility and hones math skills.

- Getting to work on time helps with accountability.

- Earning a paycheck reflects self-worth and yields appreciation for a hard day’s work.

- These lessons don’t exclusively apply to being a server in a restaurant.

And the lack of applicants isn’t exclusively a service industry issue, either.

But it seems fewer and fewer students are taking advantage of the numerous employment opportunities in the area.

If we want new restaurants - or any new business, for that matter - to come to town, we need people to work at them.

We need to put aside the idea that a particular job is beneath a particular person.

We, as parents, need to teach our children that work isn’t easy, but it can be rewarding. And being of service to others is an incredible lesson that can only be learned when it’s put in action. We need to prove that there are valuable life lessons that can be learned when a person takes a job for the first time.

So encourage your child to take that job serving food. Or washing cars. Or scrubbing toilets, planting flowers or delivering newspapers.

Take that job for the betterment of your community.

And the betterment of yourself.

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