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Jackley Brings Jesus to Another Press Conference—Distraction Ensues

AttorneyGeneral Marty Jackley prefaces his announcement of criminal charges in the GEAR UP/Mid-Central scandal with an invocation from a local pastor, Platte, SD, 2016.03.16. Screen cap from KSFY-TV, 2016.03.17.
Attorney General Marty Jackley prefaces his announcement of criminal charges in the GEAR UP/Mid-Central scandal with an invocation from a local pastor, Platte, SD, 2016.03.16. Screen cap from KSFY-TV, 2016.03.17.

Both times that Attorney General Marty Jackley has held a press conference in Platte—on November 3 and yesterday, March 16—he has had a local pastor open the meeting with a prayer.

Dana Hanna, attorney for Stacy Phelps, one of the three people whose felony charges A.G. Jackley announced yesterday, blasted Jackley with an e-mail made available to reporters:

As an attorney who, like Mr. Jackley, is sworn to uphold the Constitution, I am deeply disappointed and offended by Mr. Jackley’s decision to begin a public press conference in which he would announce a criminal prosecution by calling a pastor to bless his press conference and bless the Attorney General. This allowed Mr. Jackley, in his role as a government prosecutor, to pray on camera. As the Attorney General well knows, the Constitution of the United States demands separation of Church and State. Mr. Jackley’s decision to begin a public State of South Dakota-sponsored press conference in which he announced criminal charges against South Dakota citizens by having a pastor bless his announcement was a violation of the Constitution, and an offensive attempt to manipulate the public.

This is not a criticism of the pastor and man of God who spoke at the press conference in all good faith. It is a criticism of a government lawyer who should know better. The fact that the State’s top lawyer has chosen to begin his prosecution of Stacy Phelps by committing a public violation of the Establishment Clause of the Constitution is, I fear, an extremely unfortunate beginning of this criminal prosecution [Dana Hanna, in Dana Ferguson, “Is Prayer Allowed at a State Press Conference?that Sioux Falls paper, 2016.03.17].

KSFY got comment from the American Civil Liberties Union, which said yeah, a state press conference maybe isn’t the best place for a specifically Christian prayer. A.G. Jackley chose to light into the ACLU:

“Joining a community that has tragically lost an entire family in a moment of prayer is both appropriate and legal.  The United States Supreme Court has clearly upheld and recognized the Guaranteed Constitutional Right to Freedom of Religion.  As Attorney General, I have joined with other State Attorneys General in successfully allowing gatherings which include local government and other legislative functions to open a meeting with an appropriate prayer.  I invite the ACLU to join with me and other State Attorneys General in both recognizing and protecting Civil Liberties and Constitutional Rights,” said Attorney General Jackley.

In August of 2013, South Dakota Attorney Jackley joined 23 other states in a multi-state brief filed in the United States Supreme Court urging that the U.S. Constitution allows for prayer during governmental meetings and legislative session.

In the Town of Greece decision, the United States Supreme Court sided with the Attorneys General position that a township practice of opening each board meeting with a prayer did not violate the Establishment Clause of the U.S. Constitution.

The Attorneys General advocated that “The American people deserve an Establishment Clause jurisprudence that is clear, workable, and faithful to the text and history of the First Amendment.” The Court further recognized that legislative prayer, while religious in nature, has long been understood as compatible with the Establishment Clause. This includes opening of governmental meetings where prayer is meant to lend gravity to the occasion and reflect values long part of the Nation’s heritage [Attorney General’s Office, press release, 2016.03.17].

Jackley avoids mentioning the complaint from Hanna that got this discussion started, perhaps because highlighting Hanna’s argument might remind folks of the defense attorney’s valid interpretation of the Jesus-theater staged yesterday in Platte. Yesterday was the opening public salvo in what may well be contentious criminal cases against Phelps, Dan Guericke, and Stephanie Hubers. An attorney for the defense saw the prosecution opening its case in the media with a showy display of piety. Imagine if the prosecutor were to call as his first witness a pastor and ask him, “Can you get God to bless me and my investigators and the evidence I’m about to present?” It doesn’t take an atheist to shout “Objection!” at that theater. Hanna is just doing his job for his client, attacking both the prosecutor’s claims and the holy vestments in which the prosecutor is cloaking himself.

Hanna’s statement that Jackley is trying to “manipulate the public” may apply to a non-courtroom aspect of yesterday’s press conference. In November, A.G. Jackley came to Platte to tell the large, conservative Dutch Reformed community there that good church-going man Scott Westerhuis had murdered his wife and four children before killing himself. This time, A.G. Jackley returned to tell them that Scott and his wife Nicole were big-time crooks, stealing perhaps more than a million dollars from the public. Sugarcoating those harsh allegations with opening prayers and persistent references to tragic loss sounds less like the responsible public reporting of facts by a law enforcement official and more like the political padding of a politician who plans to come back and ask for votes in a couple years.

Playing spiritual healer suits neither Jackley’s personality nor his public position. It also smells, just a little bit, of over-compensation by the state’s top cop who would rather debate the Establishment Clause with the ACLU than explain how neither he nor anyone else in Pierre noticed a million-dollar scam that may have been going on for ten years.

Maybe A.G. Jackley should open every meeting with a prayer… and ask God, Allah, Gaia, and anyone else to help him stop the next big scandal before someone gets killed.


  1. happy camper 2016-03-17 21:48

    Yes, indefensible but reminds me of Craig on this blog who speaks the false liberal prayer. Both on top of the mountain looking down on you. We so much better cause we believe this. Just a different delusion.

  2. BOHICA 2016-03-17 22:01

    I’m sorry, but it must be a slow news day to bring this topic to the table. in the scheme of all the topics out there….this is a pimple on an elephants butt.

  3. happy camper 2016-03-17 22:56

    Personally I think it’s relevant. Bow your head. Submit. Christian or Libbie the Borg are coming.

  4. Roger Cornelius 2016-03-17 22:57

    Jackley is just doing what any good little republican South Dakota politician always does, pander to the right wing Christian groups.

  5. Roger Cornelius 2016-03-17 22:59

    “and now as my first witness, I call Jesus Christ to the stand, please step forward Jesus and be sworn”.

  6. Paul Seamans 2016-03-17 23:00

    Considering that a good percentage of the funds embezzled should have gone to native education the proper thing would have been to have a prayer from a Lakota/Dakota spiritual leader.

  7. Disgusted Dakotan 2016-03-18 00:54

    You all miss the mark. Jackley is running to the right trying to curry favor with conservatives and distance himself at the same time from Daugaard.

    Jackley knows that Mickelson is vulnerable for being an establishment moderate and lacks support in conservative circles.

    This is painfully forced and appears contrived for political pandering.

  8. Jon H 2016-03-18 01:59

    I think Attorney General Jackley has missed several opportunities to deal with other multi million dollar criminal activity that have been taking place for years in South Dakota. Incidents that were specifically brought to him by people that were appointed by the governor.

  9. Mark Winegar 2016-03-18 05:36

    If A. G. Jackley wants to pray with the community, and there is nothing wrong with that, he ought to do so in church. This behavior is not about freedom of religion. It seems to be more about gaining personal support at the polls at the expense of violating his oath the uphold the Constitution.

  10. Spike 2016-03-18 07:08

    “allowing gatherings which include other local and government functions to open a meeting with appropriate prayer”

    “This includes opening of governmental meetings where a prayer is meant to lend gravity to the occasion and reflect values long part of the nation’s heritage”

    I do not believe a press conference announcing the criminal prosecution of these people remotely qualifies. Nor should it in the future.

  11. 96Tears 2016-03-18 08:02

    Pimping Jesus looks like a gimmick in this press conference, and speaks volumes about Jackley’s poor judgment. I’m sure he’s angling for press attention about this gimmick so he can answer why his faith is so important to him. Will any reporters bite on that obvious hook?

  12. mike from iowa 2016-03-18 08:52

    What’s next? Publicly stoning gays to shore up Jackley’s street cred with evangelicals? Seems too obvious the AG was pandering.

  13. Bill Dithmer 2016-03-18 09:19

    Even the bible has something to say about public prayers. This is all meaningless to god if there is one.
    “Beware of rpracticing your righteousness before other people in order sto be seen by them, for then you will have no reward from your Father who is in heaven.
    2 t“Thus, when you give to the needy, sound no trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, that they may ube praised by others. Truly, I say to you, they have vreceived their reward. 3 But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, 4 so that your giving may be in secret. wAnd your Father who sees in secret will reward you.
    The Lord’s Prayer
    5 “And when you pray, you must not be like the hypocrites. For they love xto stand and pray in the synagogues and at the street corners, that they may be seen by others. yTruly, I say to you, they have received their reward. 6 But when you pray, zgo into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret. aAnd your Father who sees in secret will reward you.
    7 “And when you pray, do not heap up empty phrases as bthe Gentiles do, for cthey think that they will be heard dfor their many words. 8 Do not be like them, efor your Father knows what you need before you ask him. 9 fPray then like this:

    The Blindman

  14. Loren 2016-03-18 09:29

    ” This is painfully forced and appears contrived for political pandering.” Dis. Dakotan

    Just about everything Jackley does seems forced or contrived. Then again, are Thune, Rounds, and Noem any better? Cummon, SD, we can do better!

  15. Laurie Meis 2016-03-18 15:02

    I haven’t been in a courtroom for years, but are witnesses still asked to put their hand on the Bible and swear to tell the truth . . .?

  16. caheidelberger Post author | 2016-03-18 15:45

    Interesting question, Lauren! Actually, I don’t think state law specifies that an oath need be sworn on any specific book or document. Placing one’s hand on a Bible or over one’s heart or patting one’s head and rubbing one’s tummy have no legal bearing on the nature of the oath sworn in court or elsewhere.

  17. 96Tears 2016-03-18 16:11

    Well, I watched Perry Mason on MeTV last night and lo and behold, they slap the left hand on the Bible and swear to tell the truth. So there!

  18. Craig 2016-03-18 16:23

    hc: “Yes, indefensible but reminds me of Craig on this blog who speaks the false liberal prayer. Both on top of the mountain looking down on you. We so much better cause we believe this. Just a different delusion.”

    Great… maybe when you have an extra minute you can translate this into a sentence which resembles a legitimate opinion of the person you are invoking instead of your interpretation based upon a couple of comments on one specific topic. Or not – your choice.

  19. Craig 2016-03-18 16:27

    Laurie / Cory:

    Here is your answer:

    19-19-603. Oath or affirmation to testify truthfully. Before testifying, a witness must give an oath or affirmation to testify truthfully. It must be in a form designed to impress that duty on the witness’s conscience.

    No requirement for it to be on a bible. You could use a copy of the Constitution, the Koran, or a copy of last month’s Good Housekeeping if that happens to be of utmost importance to you.

  20. Laurie Meis 2016-03-18 17:13

    I am from the Platte/Geddes area, and I wouldn’t be surprised at all to hear that the prayer BEFORE the press conference was initiated from the Ministerial Board. I could be wrong, but it is done regularly in this community, and in my opinion, it is something to be proud of. Talk about sticking a person’s nose where it doesn’t belong (Cory/ACLU)~~~

    The ignorance of even broaching this topic in this situation is hard to comprehend. Insensitivity trumps journalistic reporting here. Time and place for this “fight”? Not now. Not here.

    **And, btw, I think it’s safe to say to MOST courtrooms will bring out the “big bad Bible” unless otherwise asked to do so.

  21. scott 2016-03-18 17:54

    Marty Jackly announced today that all charges will be dropped, since only God can judge.

  22. caheidelberger Post author | 2016-03-18 18:03

    There is no ignorance in breaching this topic, Laurie. There is genuine inquiry here. The defense attorney is well within his rights to raise questions about whether the prayer was just theater to distract from bigger questions.

    Laurie, the idea that outsiders shouldn’t stick their nose in Platte’s business is the mistaken thinking that helped insulate this corruption from outside scrutiny. Scott and Nicole Westerhuis stole our money. Scott and Nicole Westerhuis and other things that happened in Platte are our business. Marty Jackley’s failure to catch this crime sooner is our business. How Marty Jackley tries to deflect attention from his failure and the failure of other public officials (Guericke, Schopp, Melmer, every member of the MCEC board…) is our business.

    ***And, btw, as Craig’s link to statute makes clear, if you and I are both witnesses in a court trial, and if you place your hand on a Bible while swearing your oath while I keep my hands in my lap and simply speak the oath, our oaths are of equivalent weight in the eyes of the law.

  23. mike from iowa 2016-03-18 18:05

    Time and place for this “fight”? Not now. Not here. Someone sounds exactly like LaPierre @ NRA after every single mass shooting. Now is not the time for this discussion. Apparently no time is a good time for a seriously needed discussion on topics vital to American citizen’s lives.

    Your religious beliefs belong at home,in your closet.lest you become the hypocrite your lord and saviour says you are when you reveal and revel in public piety,

  24. bearcreekbat 2016-03-18 18:12

    Laurie, in my experience Bibles have not been used to swear in witnesses or jurors in any courtroom (federal or state) in western South Dakota in Pennington, Lawrence, Butte, Fall River, Custer or Meade counties. Likewise for Hughes, Clay and Minnehaha counties. I recall this from my experiences in many different judicial proceedings from the 1970’s forward, but I don’t know whether they were used before the 70’s.

  25. Laurie Meis 2016-03-18 19:39

    Nice, Mike. What makes you call me a hypocrite? Please enlighten me on that.

    What is the actual discussion? That the prayer itself was illegal? Or that people (who despise Jackley) felt he was using it for political purposes? I am not even a Jackley fan. I just am not sure the prayer was his idea. And, has there been an actual complaint filed by any person there? Or just people on the outside who saw it on the news? I really don’t know. It seems that with everything else to focus on, AT THIS TIME, this could have waited for another day. Emotions are running at an all-time high, and I don’t understand the decision to go there right now. People are hanging on anything they can to get through this, and in our community, many people turn to prayer.

    Anyway, I am not going to home and hide my beliefs in my closet. I’m not real sure you know what my beliefs are from my post. Some people just look for a fight and trouble where there isn’t any and that is not right.

    Corey, are you really offended by the prayer or is it Jackley you are after? It seems the latter. I will let this go now.

    Have a nice evening, everyone.

  26. grudznick 2016-03-18 19:48

    Ms. Meis, I can’t apologize for them but Mike is from Iowa. Mr. H is looking for reasons to blog partisan slams. That’s just the way they are.

    I don’t believe in a God and find prayers only slightly annoying waste of time at the start of meetings but I don’t have a problem with it if it makes other people happy. Did you know they start the day every day in the legislatures? Every single day, apparently, in the Senate of the Great State of South Dakota, there is a prayer.

    How come nobody has whined about that yet?

    Have a nice evening, ma’am, and I hope things keep getting better for your community. I think most of us hope for that, and maybe some of us even pray for it.

  27. mike from iowa 2016-03-18 19:52

    Can’t stick around for the main event,huh? Miss,if you can read you will see I never called you a hypocrite. Your lord and saviour does that for me. (as the Blindman so eloquently posts) The Lord’s Prayer
    5 “And when you pray, you must not be like the hypocrites. For they love xto stand and pray in the synagogues and at the street corners, that they may be seen by others. yTruly, I say to you, they have received their reward. 6 But when you pray, zgo into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret. aAnd your Father who sees in secret will reward you.

  28. grudznick 2016-03-18 19:52

    I hope Mr. H’s first law bill, should he get into the legislatures, is to outlaw prayers in his chambers and caucuses. I would tell my representatives to vote for it. Mr. H’s first law bill could be to either ban or mandate the legislatures ask God, Allah, Gaia, and anyone else to guide the day. I’m for ban, but others might be for mandate. It would make for good debates.

  29. John 2016-03-18 20:29

    There is nothing Christ-like in prosecuting. There is no ‘turning the other cheek’. There is no ‘forgiving seven times seventy’. There is no ‘judge not, least ye’ be judged”. Andy school child properly taught knows the hypocrisy. This was Jackely’s show-stage, like a faux Falwell or Robertson to capture the little old lady and naive vote that infects South Dakota. I can’t wait until the Muslims and Wiccans demand their equal time – time to which they have a Supreme Court blessed right for the ‘prayers’ are to be non-denominational. But then again it often subjectively appears and one often may question whether Jackley was in the office to defend the Constitution or just his interpretation of what it should be.

  30. grudznick 2016-03-18 20:37

    I, for one, also want the Wiccans to demand their equal time. Perhaps then Lt. Governor Jackley will speak at some of their outtings. I hope I am here to see it.

  31. clcjm 2016-03-18 20:51

    Agree that Jackly’s having this press conference opened with a prayer does seem contrived and a distraction. It also looks like a way to pander to the right wing religious voters in future elections. Also agree that Thune, Noem and Rounds are just as contrived and, yes, we can do better!

    I also partially agree with Mr. Seamans about prayers from a Lakota/Dakota spiritual leader. However, I think it should have been (forgive me if I don’t describe this perfectly) a ceremony of purification using the burning of sage to remove bad spirits! The Great Spirit knows we need it!!

    I also agree with Grudz’ last statement, hoping for things getting better in Platte…and in South Dakota and the USA!

    By the way, scandals like EB5 and Gear Up are prime examples of why Republicans want federal monies dispersed to states as “block grants” with “local control”!!! We can see how well that’s working out!

  32. leslie 2016-03-18 21:41

    boy grudz, yah blew that. now we know you are a witch and an atheist…triangulation of your true i.d. coming soon. jk

    bill d., in another blog u mention les r. for mayor. that would be good to have a great musician and long timer up there as a dem against this prairie city sage brush rebellion conspiracist candidate.

  33. laurensd1 2016-03-18 22:29

    This is really stupid, prayer from a Canadian truck driver/pastor to start?
    Just another Jackass start.
    No doubt Scott had his Westerhuis kids at his church the night before.? At this guy’s church,
    But, of course. This is Platte. Anything Dutch rules. That is why Scott got away with this.
    Entirely. NOBODY ever stood up to Scott. He was a monster.
    I lived there and worked with Nicole.
    And this will never end.
    The reason Platte was/is a great place is because of its Dutch heritage. It will also be it’s downfall.
    That and they keep voting for their own self interests.

  34. mike from iowa 2016-03-19 08:00

    Grudz,you’re fired! I hired you to help me pick up women ,not scare them away. What was U thinking?

  35. grudznick 2016-03-19 09:57

    Ms. leslie, you have not been paying attention if you did not know those things.

  36. caheidelberger Post author | 2016-03-20 16:47

    Laurie, prayer does not offend me. Using prayer as a political tool offends me, as it should offend you and all other believers.

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