Representative Tony Randolph (R-35/Rapid City) wasted more of the Legislature’s time this week with House Concurrent Resolution 6012, a restatement of the obvious fact of the right to pray at school and a strange celebration of unnecessary bureaucracy.
HCR 6012 bloviates, as most of our Legislature’s resolutions and Trumpists do. It favors Christianity, mentioning our local majoritarian sect as the only specific religion facing persecution around the world. It makes a ridiculous mention of Trump as a champion of religious liberty, when Trump has actually been working hard by his moral example to destroy the moral authority of the religion of Randolph and other Trump suckers. And after all of its high holy windup, HCR 6012 muffs its pitch: instead of delivering a clarion call for all children to bow down and pray to Representative Randolph’s God (unconstitutional, sure, but Randolph has no Constitutional scruple when it comes to etching his faith into legislation) or directly condemning the atheist scum in our schools who cuff and stuff the kids who pray (we don’t, but again, resolutions are about making hay, not solving real problems), Randolph trails off into a whimperish endorsement of Betsy DeVos’s bureaucratic guidance on prayer and religious expression in schools.
The Trump Administration’s dry bureaucratese on this topic, issued January 16, requires public school districts to certify to the feds every year that they aren’t preventing kids from praying in school or lose their federal funding. It requires the state to send copies of every complaint it receives about schools limiting prayer, even meritless complaints, to the feds, with descriptions of the investigation and/or enforcement the state conducted relating to each complaint. Schools and states that fail to submit that paperwork lose their federal funding.
HCR 6012 thus celebrates federal mandates, federal bureaucracy, and federal funding, all very un-Randolph-Republican, un-Trump-Republican principles. And as a surprise kicker for those who look past the Trump rally slogans (not to mention Trump’s own utter disregard for prayer offered to any supreme being other than himself), someone at the Department of Education still managed to write into the DeVos dictate that the kind of theocracy Randolph and other South Dakota Republicans seek is still unconstitutional:
The Supreme Court’s decisions set forth principles that distinguish impermissible governmental religious speech from constitutionally protected private religious speech. For example, teachers and other public school officials, acting in their official capacities, may not lead their classes in prayer, devotional readings from the Bible, or other religious activities, [ 4 ] nor may school officials use their authority to attempt to persuade or compel students to participate in prayer or other religious activities. [ 5 ] The Supreme Court has held, for example, that public school officials violated the Establishment Clause by inviting a rabbi to deliver a prayer at a graduation ceremony because such conduct was “attributable to the State” and applied “subtle coercive pressures,” “where the student had no real alternative which would have allowed her to avoid the fact or appearance of participation.” [ 6 ] Accordingly, school officials may not select public speakers on a basis that favors religious speech [ 7 ][U.S. Department of Education, “Guidance on Constitutionally Protected Prayer and Religious Expression in Public Elementary and Secondary Schools,” 2020.01.16].
Last year, Randolph and his colleagues voted for and the Governor signed into law the notable “significant coercive pressure” of requiring every public school in South Dakota to declare to its students that we all believe in the Christian God. No wonder Randolph didn’t mention that part of the guidance in floor debate Tuesday [go to 27:55 in SDPB’s video].
Randolph actually didn’t tell us much of anything about the federal bureaucracy he came to praise: he just recited his resolution verbatim then sat down, without as much as an “Amen!” or a “Vote Green for Jesus!” No one found Randolph’s recitation worth responding to; the House just went quietly to a vote.
Four Representatives voted red on Randolph’s dreary stemwinder: Representatives Kelly Sullivan (D-13/Sioux Falls), Nancy Rasmussen (R-17/Hurley), Rebecca Reimer (R-26B/Chamberlain), and Scyller Borglum (R-32/Rapid City). Without any floor debate on the record, we can’t know why those four cast nays. But note that only one was a Democrat (meaning the rest of the Democratic caucus went along with Randolph’s minigrandstanding? Come on, team—toughen up!). Three Republican women found reason to vote against HCR 6012… and one of them is running for U.S. Senate. Scyller Borglum casts herself as a bigger, braver Trumpist than Marion Michael Rounds, yet offered essential Trumpism to vote on in Pierre, she turns her thumb down. Borglum voted against scrawling “In God We Trust” on our schools last year, calling that mandate “government overreach.” Maybe she sees overreach in the DeVos prayer guidance, too. Whatever the reason, Borglum stuck her neck out Tuesday on a mostly meaningless resolution that her incumbent primary opponent and his salivating surrogates will surely cast as a vote against prayer in school.
Borglum’s vote in particular appears to place some principle over easy campaign PR. Whatever moved Borglum to vote against HCR 6012, I’ll bet it’s more interesting and respectable than Randolph’s fatuous superficiality.