Clergy and members of different faiths gather at state capitol


PIERRE, S.D. (AP) — Clergy and members of several religions gathered Wednesday at the South Dakota Capitol to meet lawmakers and urge them not to denigrate people of faiths different than their own.

The prayer and outreach come after some state lawmakers last year pushed measures targeting refugee resettlement in South Dakota. 

David Zellmer, bishop of the South Dakota Synod of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, said the gathering was about “lifting up” that the freedom of religion guaranteed in the First Amendment is for everyone.

“I really want to remind our folks that we are a people of law,” said Zellmer, who was among more than 50 people who prayed in the Capitol rotunda.

Taneeza Islam, executive director of the nonprofit South Dakota Voices for Peace, said she hopes lawmakers recognize the diversity in the state. She said it’s important they understand the decisions made at the Capitol affect everyone in South Dakota.

“A big issue in our state is that it’s easy to stereotype and vilify someone you don’t have a face, I call it, ‘Face to the name,’” she said. “When you don’t have someone that you can say, ‘Oh, I know Taneeza. She’s an American Muslim. She’s involved in the community. She’s raising a family’.”

Last year, a bill proposed would have required the Legislature’s approval for refugee resettlements in South Dakota; it was eventually changed to simply require private refugee resettlement agencies to provide an annual report to the governor and Legislature. A different resolution from Republican Sen. Neal Tapio would have expressed a lack of confidence in the resettlement program.

Tapio, who is preparing to run for U.S. House, called the interfaith group a “political movement.” Tapio has said he will form an unofficial legislative work group to examine state immigration and refugee resettlement programs in South Dakota.

“We have a domestic threat that’s going on right here in our country,” Tapio said after the prayers. “Refugee resettlements and interfaith dialogue is a part of a war. It’s a silent part. It’s a part about taking away the Christian fabric of our nation. Now, some people are OK with that. That’s their prerogative, but there’s American patriots that want to fight.”

State Capitol security was notably heightened Wednesday.