South Dakota Mulls Criminalizing Removal Of State Prayer From Its Seal

Failing to include the state motto "Under God The People Rule" on the state seal could lead to jail time.

A group of state lawmakers in South Dakota have proposed legislation that would criminalize misrepresentations of the state seal, leading to jail time for anyone who fails to reproduce the artwork accurately and complete.

House Bill 1102 would make it a Class 1 misdemeanor to replicate the state seal in a way that isn't "full and complete" and does not include the state motto "Under God The People Rule."

Dozens of Legislators have signed on to the bill and its prime sponsor Rep. Sue Peterson, R-Sioux Falls, said Thursday that she wrote the bill in hopes of giving the secretary of state's office additional authority to police inaccurate or incomplete versions of the seal.

Peterson was made aware by colleagues that state apparel bearing the seal lacked the motto.

"I think it's because the women's prison does it for us and I think they just didn't have the right piece," Peterson said. "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 bill's critics argue it could affect satirists and artists who use the seal:

Robert Mehling, a host on the Sioux Empire Podcast, said when he first learned of the bill, he felt targeted considering his show recently used an altered state seal to draw attention to law enforcement in South Dakota using forced catheterization to collect urine samples.

Peterson said the bill was not aimed specifically at Mehling's use of the seal but suggested that individuals looking to alter the seal for other purposes ought to reconsider:

“Anybody that is using it in a way that is not consistent with the Constitution and state law should take a look at it and not do it anymore," Peterson said.