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January 11, 2018 06:02 PM

Legislator Confronts Group During Interfaith Day

Politics and religion crossed paths during Interfaith Day at the Capitol.  It happened Wednesday, when a South Dakota legislator, who's been a vocal supporter of a Muslim travel ban, posed for a picture with faith leaders and other lawmakers in the rotunda.    

At the end of Interfaith Day at the Capitol, Sioux Falls immigration attorney Taneeza Islam posed next to Watertown Republican Neal Tapio.

"He stepped into the picture and then afterwards turned and told us all that he doesn't like to be called a racist," Islam said.  

Tapio says he attended only as an observer, not a participant, to Interfaith Day.  He says he wasn't welcomed when he showed up.

"They kept jeering me to say hey, you gotta get out of our picture and I thought that was ironic.  My dad was a Lutheran minister, I'm a person of faith, if you're going to have an interfaith dialogue, why would you ask somebody to leave," Tapio said

Tapio says a real dialogue begins by recognizing the roots of global terrorism. 

"It's not my job as a person in government to say what religion is right and wrong, our job is to identify if there is a problem and isolate that problem and the way to isolate the problem is terrorism has something to do with Islam," Tapio said.

Organizers of Interfaith Day say it was intended as a celebration of South Dakota's diversity and religious tolerance.  Islam says Tapio's  outburst didn't tarnish the event.  Instead, she says the group is even more unified than before.

"I think it made us stronger to see that there are unfortunately, opposition to people coming together of all faith backgrounds which, in and of itself, is surprising.  But there is opposition to that and we saw that first-hand," Islam said.

Earlier this week, Senator Tapio announced he's forming a legislative work group to look into immigration and refugee resettlement programs in the state. Islam says her non-profit group, South Dakota Voices for Peace, will fight any legislative efforts that harm immigrants and refugees coming into the state.  

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