What started as a simple, heartwarming gesture to fulfill an eight-year-old girl’s request has turned into a battle over the separation of church and state. South Carolina lawmakers are stalled on a bill to make the woolly mammoth the official state fossil after state Sen. Kevin Bryant (R) added Bible verses to credit God with the creation of the ancient mammal.
Eight-year-old Olivia McConnell, who says she wants to be an Egyptologist when she grows up, wrote a letter to her state representatives in January making the case for the woolly mammoth as the state fossil. Woolly mammoth teeth were discovered by slaves on a South Carolina plantation in 1725, making it one of the first animal fossils found in North America.
Her representative, state Rep. Robert Ridgeway (D), agreed to sponsor the bill because it would help children learn “about the governmental process and legislative process in South Carolina.”
Unfortunately, that lesson may not be very encouraging to other children hoping to effect change through government. Bryant’s addition of the creation verses derailed the bill. After other senators removed the Bible verses, Bryant posted another Bible passage on his website condemning humanity for “worship[ing] and serv[ing] the creature rather than the Creator.” Lawmakers will debate a new amendment this week requiring that the woolly mammoth be officially referred to as “the Columbian Mammoth, which was created on the Sixth Day with the other beasts of the field.”
Bryant, a self-proclaimed creationist, says he won’t block the bill if his amendment fails, but felt it was important to hold a vote. “I just had a notion that we ought to consider acknowledging the creator as we acknowledge one of his creations,” Bryant said. Bryant’s colleague, state Sen. Mike Fair (R), blocked the last bill from passing without the Bible verses, but also said he would not stand in the way of this one after hearing about Olivia’s campaign.
The two creationist lawmakers say this is a purely symbolic move, but that the real fight is in the classroom. “This issue is symbolic—the teaching of intelligent design is not,” Bryant told the Daily Beast. Fair recently blocked the teaching of natural selection from the state’s new science standards in February.