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SC bill to make mammoth official state fossil on ice over 'God' amendment

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    Olivia McConnell wrote a letter to her state legislators asking them to designate the mammoth as the official state fossil.fox carolina/ office of rep. ridgeway

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    This photo shows a museum worker inspecting a replica of a woolly mammoth (Mammuthus primigenius), a relative of modern elephants that went extinct 3,000 to 10,000 years ago.Photo by Jonathan S. Blair/National Geographic

A bill fulfilling an 8-year-old girl’s wish to designate a type of woolly mammoth as South Carolina’s official state fossil has been put on ice after a state senator proposed an amendment declaring God created the animal. 

Third-grade science enthusiast Olivia McConnell sparked the legislative push for a fossil bill after sending a handwritten letter to Gov. Nikki Haley and two state lawmakers. After learning South Carolina was one of only seven states without an official state fossil, she wrote in the letter that she “loves fossils,” and nominated the Columbian mammoth. 

McConnell cited three reasons: the discovery of fossilized mammoth teeth in a South Carolina swamp in 1725 has been credited as the first scientific identification of a mammoth in North America; South Carolina does not have a state fossil; and “fossils teach us about our past.”

State Rep. Robert Ridgeway said he spoke with his colleague, state Sen. Kevin Johnson, after receiving the letter, and the Democrats both introduced legislation in their respective chambers. 

“It’s all because of a little girl who is really interested in fossils and really interested in our state and the way it works,” Ridgeway said. 

The fossil bill sailed through the House -- but ran into a snag in the Senate, after Republican state Sen. Kevin Bryant introduced an amendment stating that God created the mammoth.

Bryant’s amendment sought to insert a passage from the book of Genesis into the bill, which says God created the beasts of the field on the sixth day of Creation.

“And God said, Let the earth bring forth the living creature after his kind, cattle, and creeping thing, and beast of the earth after his kind: and it was so. And God made the beast of the earth after his kind, and cattle after their kind, and every thing that creepeth upon the earth after his kind: and God saw that it was good,” the passage reads in part.

Bryant’s original amendment was ruled out of order, so Bryant re-introduced the amendment, with changes. The new amendment refers to "The Columbian Mammoth, which was created on the Sixth Day with the other beasts of the field." 

According to state records the amendment was added to the bill Tuesday, but the Senate has not yet taken up the bill for a vote.  

Bryant said on his blog that his amendment is meant to recognize the creator of the mammoth, and told The State he believes the amendment does not violate the First Amendment because it is from the Old Testament, which multiple religions adhere to. He told the paper he plans to support the bill regardless. 

"Since we're dealing with the fossil of the woolly mammoth, then this amendment would deal with the beginning of the woolly mammoth," he told the newspaper.  

Still, the debate over Bryant's amendment has gotten the bill stuck in its own Ice Age, delaying for weeks a piece of legislation Ridgeway said is meant to be simple, not controversial.  

Ridgeway said he has faith in the bill, but would feel disappointed and bad for letting down a child if it stalled.

“Personally I believe in the Bible and I have no problems with the Bible,” he said. “But this is just a simple bill and I don’t see where any of the other state symbols have the Bible in the bill.”