SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (KELO) — On August 24, 2023, a picture posted to X showed South Dakota Attorney General Marty Jackley among a group of women wearing Moms for Liberty Shirts, along with a photo of a Moms for Liberty (M4L) pledge signed by Jackley.
The pledge, intended for candidates and elected officials, states that the signer pledges to “honor the fundamental rights of parents,” which includes directing a child’s education, medical care, and moral upbringing.
With the pledge, Jackley indicated a will to advance policies to strengthen parental involvement and decision making, increase transparency, defend against government overreach and secure ‘parental rights’ at all levels of government.
Moms for Liberty, the group who sponsored the pledge, says they are a group that stands up for parental rights. They are also categorized as an extremist group by the SPLC, who describe the group as “a far-right organization that engages in anti-student inclusion activities and self-identifies as part of the modern parental rights movement. The group grew out of opposition to public health regulations for COVID-19, opposes LGBTQ+ and racially inclusive school curriculum, and has advocated books bans.”
The person who posted the pictures of Jackley and his pledge is Pennington County Moms for Liberty chair Heather Fields. Fields, as chair is the major contributor to the Moms for Liberty Pennington Co. Chapter Facebook page.
The content posted by Fields on this page appears to mesh somewhat with the SPLC’s description of the group.
On the anti-diversity front there is the ‘School board watch’ portion of the group’s August 2023 newsletter, where there is a discussion of the Rapid City Area Schools’ strategic plan.
“One very concerning development is a plan to use Blend Consultants LLC to bring Filipino teachers in to fill vacancies,” reads the newsletter. “This company has some very “woke” looking information on its main website.”
According to blendconsultancy.com, their mission is to “help educators create opportunities and expand their horizons in their chosen fields.” The company goes on to say it wants to “promote cultural interaction and mutual understanding between the U.S. and foreign teachers.”
The exchange works through the J-1 Teacher Program, run by the U.S. Government, which provides non-immigration visas that allows foreign teachers to teach in elementary and secondary schools in the United States.
The site says the program encourages “diversity, inclusion, and cultural understanding.”
This inclusion of the word ‘diversity’ may be what the newsletter describes as “woke”. This is supported by a May 24 post on the page by Fields outlining her views on the district’s strategic plan.
“Bad- they mention hiring a diverse workforce- which of course means diversity of immutable characteristics like race/gender which mean very little in the actual ability to teach our kids,” Fields wrote in the post.
Opposition to LGBTQ+ communities can also be found on the Moms for Liberty Pennington Co. Chapter website. Despite the national organization claiming they are not book banners, the site has lists of books available in Pennington County schools that they want banned.
The pages note that many of the books on the lists have not actually been reviewed by the group before the call for their removal, “but if the title/author/topic seems suspicious, they have been included until we are able to read and review them.”
The lists, containing hundreds of books, note the book that is being objected to and (if the book has actually been reviewed), the complaint against it by the group.
Some examples of books the group wants removed and the group’s reasoning are the following:
Note: Bold lettering indicates quotes from the group’s website.
- ABC: A Family Alphabet Book – “a book about families made ONLY of homosexual couples”
- Reviewed books contain links to Youtube channels of the book.
- Prince and Knight – “a story about a prince who can’t find a princess to fall in love with, until he is rescued from a dragon by a male knight. The prince and the knight fall in love and start a relationship.“
- And Tango Makes Three – “this is a story of 2 male penguins who share a nest. They are sad when they see the other penguin couples with eggs of their own, and they adopt an egg at the end.“
- Julian is a Mermaid – “a story about a little boy who wants to be a female mermaid. Many parents may be ok with this book. It is the illustrations that are strange. In the end, the boy is with a group of mermaids and dressed as a female mermaid. Check it out: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=62HGRe_QuhU“
It is not just books dealing with LGBTQ+ issues that the group wants removed. Some other examples include books they want removed from high schools, including We Are Not From Here, a book about people traveling from Guatemala to cities in Mexico. Moms for Liberty Pennington County says they object to this book because it “deals with the sexual assualt [sic.] of a minor, teen pregnancy, violence, and illegal immigration.”
Another example from high schools is the novel Sula, which M4L wants removed because it is “a story about the lives of people living in a segragated [sic.] town. Includes themes of sexuality, suicide.”
“We believe that the lines between parenting and teaching have become blurred, to the detriment of our children and families. There are controversial issues, such as racism, transgender ideology, and homosexual marriage that are best dealt with in the home,” reads the page with the list of books to ban.
The group also claims to oppose government overreach. Some examples of what the group has put forth as governmental overreach include having nurses and counselors in public schools. According to the SPLC, the group has also called for the abolition of the U.S. Department of Education.
KELOLAND News reached out to Attorney General Marty Jackley to ask about his signing of the M4L pledge. He agreed to sit for an interview via Zoom.
Jackley said he signed the pledge while in Minnehaha County, and says he spoke with members of M4L chapters in Pennington and Minnehaha Counties. We asked what he knows about the group.
“What I would tell you is I had an opportunity to talk with them a little bit about some of the concerns that they had with respect to the schools,” Jackley said. “I’m a strong believer that the school boards are the best place to put in certain protections. I’m a big believer in parental involvement.”
Jackley said the group asked him if he’d take a look at a parental pledge. He signed it as a father, he specified — not as an elected official.
The photos were of course shared publicly. As a public official, we asked Jackley if he had any concerns at the time about signing a pledge affiliated with Moms for Liberty.
“I don’t have any problem signing a pledge that says parental involvement is good; transparency in government is good; and federal or governmental overreach can be too much and at times you have to step in and stop it. No matter what group that would be — whatever setting that would be — it doesn’t change whether I’m a father or Attorney General, and I think most South Dakotans believe that parental involvement is important for our kids’ education; transparency is good for government and certainly Washington especially has too much government overreach and at times the state of South Dakota has too much government overreach.”
Seeking clarification on that statement, we asked Jackley if that meant he would have signed the pledge no matter what group was sponsoring it. “Yeah,” he said. “Those three cornerstones — parental involvement, transparency in government and avoiding or slowing down government overreach — those are important cornerstones and that’s why I signed the pledge and that’s what the pledge says.”
Jackley said his decision to sign the pledge came down to his belief in the main three cornerstones of the pledge. “I felt comfortable with it,” he said. “The concept that I would support parental involvement — it talks about transparency — and then the third point is to oppose government overreach.”
Asked if his main awareness of the M4L group came from the pledge and the conversation he had with the members, Jackley appeared to dodge the question.
“Yeah, I mean that’s what the pledge says,” remarked Jackley. “I mean obviously I took a close look at the pledge like I would any pledge before I signed it. I don’t sign very many pledges. I like the three cornerstones and I like the fact it said you can’t use this for political purposes. So to me that made sense, and again as a parent I do believe that parents should be involved in matters that affect their children and I do believe in transparency and I do believe that government can overreach and when they do I think it’s important for parents and communities to come together to suggest different ways to avoid that government overreach.”
We brought up the group’s designation as an extremist group by the SPLC, and asked Jackley again if he had a familiarity of the group beyond the pledge.
In response, Jackley told us that he based his decision to meet with them and his willingness to sign the pledge as a father, because of the commitment to parental involvement, open transparency and avoiding government overreach. “That would be the reason I was willing to meet with them, talk to them about it and — you know that would be my level of familiarity,” he said.
We asked if Jackley’s signing of the pledge should be viewed as him agreeing with the views of the group (and offered to go through some of those views) as a whole, or just as agreement with the general concepts of parental involvement, transparency and avoiding overreach.
“I signed the pledge as a father and somebody that believes in parental involvement with school kids, with transparency in government and avoiding overreach. It really doesn’t go any further than that. That’s what the pledge says,” Jackley commented. “Would I have signed that or not if this were an interview of me in my official capacity, or me as a candidate or me as a father — I just believe that kids are better when parents are involved, and I believe government is better when there is transparency involved, and I believe there is too much government overreach — it doesn’t go any further. Those aren’t further endorsements. Those are three cornerstones and I would agree to it whether it’s on paper or verbal because I think it’s important.”
Pressed to comment on what message Jackley thought he may be sending by signing a pledge for a group labeled as extremists, Jackley reiterated.
“Look, I’ve already answered,” Jackley said. “I signed it as a father that believes in parental involvement and I try to do that in my personal life — to be involved in my kids’ education. I think strongly in transparency. I want to know what’s going on with tax-payer dollars which is why I’m involved in transparency issues both in my personal life and as Attorney General and I believe that there can be too much government overreach, so that’s why I signed that. I stand behind those three cornerstones and it doesn’t go any further than that.”
Asked whether he thought that M4L’s idea of government overreach is the same as his own, Jackley repeated that he signed a pledge saying he supports three cornerstones; parental involvement, transparency and less government overreach.
“That’s what I signed and that’s what that pledge indicates and I stand behind signing it and those positions,” Jackley said. “It doesn’t say the other things that might be being talked about on a blog or other things.”
We pointed out that the views expressed by M4L do not just appear in blog posts, but are instead posted on the official accounts and websites of the group and its chapters.
“Like I’ve already said, I signed a pledge as a parent — that clearly says there are three cornerstones to that pledge,” Jackley responded, going on to reiterate that he supports parental involvement and transparency and the concept that there can be government overreach.
Asked for his opinion of M4L beyond the cornerstones laid out in the pledge, Jackley said he had a nice opportunity to talk to them, and that he’d indicated that he supports parental involvement and transparency, and that he doesn’t support government overreach.
“I don’t think anybody should be concerned that I as a father or I as Attorney General support parental involvement in education — makes our education system stronger, that I support government transparency — I think it’s important to know where our taxpayer dollars are going especially with children, and I don’t like government overreach because I just again think Washington often times goes too far, and that’s why local control is so important,” Jackley said, addressing anyone who may be concerned about his signing of the pledge.
Part of that pledge is a promise to advance policies that strengthen parental involvement and decision-making, increase transparency, defend against government overreach and secure parental rights at all levels of government. We asked if Jackley had any specific policies he was intending to advance.
“Parental involvement, that speaks for itself and that occurs across South Dakota in school board meetings,” Jackley said. “When it comes to transparency, there can be better things done with transparency in government. As Attorney General I formed a working group to look at potential changes in legislation, so that’s occurring — and then government overreach; that’s something I do on a day-to-day basis dealing especially with the federal government.”