Josie Weiland, senior at Stevens High School, challenged legislators to defend Senate Bill 128 at a Rapid City crackerbarrel yesterday. SB 128 is Senator Phil Jensen's (R-33/Rapid City) effort to pervert the First Amendment into permission to deny others' civil rights, not to mention nullify federal law and subjugate the judicial branch to the legislative branch.

Here is Weiland's challenge to the attending legislators and to all South Dakotans:

Senate Bill 128 is an unproductive act of discrimination that allows for social oppression of the LGBT community, and is a clear violation of human dignity. It violates John Locke's social contract, which is the very foundation of the U.S. Constitution, which states: every person is entitled to the unalienable rights of Life, Liberty, and Pursuit of happiness, unless the individual takes another individual's unalienable rights away. The bill fails to give warrant as to how this will actually be benefiting South Dakota and is a poor reflection of our elected officials to be focusing time on creating bills that disconnect our communities and serve to maintain oppression. It is certainly not allowing "liberty and justice for all". Our elected leaders should allocate our time and money into issues that actually benefit the community such as Common Core and expansion of Medicaid. THESE are issues that should be prioritized. The Republican Party and sponsors of this bill want less government involvement, so please, what is the justification behind THIS exemption? [Josie Weiland, crackerbarrel, School of Mines, Rapid City, 2014.02.01].

Mention John Locke, and you're sailing over most legislators' heads. Here's how Senator Jensen responded:

Senate Bill 128 is an anti-bullying free speech bill. We've all heard recently Colorado had a bake shop, cake shop, cake decorating business that they refused on their convictions, their religious beliefs to not provide a wedding cake for a gay couple. Well, you'd think that the Constitution would protect these folks from lawsuits and harassment, but they're going through the wringer on this thing.

This bill is just a proactive bill that will protect businesses and individuals from the bullying by the anti-straight folks... [Senator Phill Jensen, crackerbarrel, 2014.02.01].

At this point, members of the audience laughed. Weiland did not. Sounding incredulous at the absurdity of the adult at the front of the room, she interrupted:

Excuse me, anti-straight folks? This is a proactive bill that decreases bullying? [Weiland, 2014.02.01]

Weiland understands Senator Jensen is offering unabashed GOP Newspeak. SB 128 grants bigots legal protection for straight bigots to engage in verbal and economic bullying against homosexuals. It also protects gays who would bully straights in the same way. SB 128 itself is bullying.

Senator Jensen plowed ahead, without acknowledging Weiland any more than he had in his opening words:

The Attorney General happened to send me an email that said we're going to have to modify section 4 to read that the AG shall defend the constitutionality of sections 1 and 2 of this act as authorized by law. Otherwise [inaudible] authoroty issue and a fiscal impact issue [Jensen, 2014.02.01].

Senator Jensen is referring to the current wording of SB 128, which would require the Attorney General to defend bigots in court at taxpayer expense. AG Marty Jackley appears unconcerned about bullying and civil rights, but at least he's watching out for his office's budget.

Senator Jensen's "response" drew disheartening applause. So did the following statement by Rep. Mike Verchio (R-30/Hill City):

My stance on all of this is that I would like to have everyone who wants repsect for their values and their causes to have the same respect for my values and my causes. Because I am a very proud Christian conservative and follow the teachings of my Lord and Savior Jesus Christ™ does not make me a bigot, and I object to people who think I am a bigot [Rep. Mike Verchio, 2014.02.01].

Being proud, Christian, conservative, or a follower of Jesus does not make anyone a bigot or a bully. Acting like Senator Jensen and Rep. Verchio does. Weiland understands that difference. She offers this rebuttal online:

I never mentioned the word Christianity or bigot in my speech and neither of them answered my question, or gave warrant as to how they were upholding the name of "Christianity". Now the responses from the gentleman were so un-Christlike, I have a hard time getting myself to see the other side. I got extremely emotional after all of this because I realized that this is ACTUALLY how these men think. I am extremely appalled and disgusted by this bill, and would encourage you all to do something about it too! [Josie Weiland, Facebook post, 2014.02.01]

Weiland tried to do something more about it after the crackerbarrel. She tried talking logic face to face with her Senator. She found it rather difficult:

After the meeting, I tried to confront Sen. Jensen about his bill, and after chasing him down for a while (because he was literally running away) I caught up to him. I asked him this: "Based on the premise of this bill (free speech), you wouldn't object to a bill that protected business owners from legal suit if they chose to deny Christians services?"

He told me he didn't know what I meant and started quickly walking away. So I told him to replace the words "sexual orientation" with Christianity in his bill, and according to the warrants of it, he would thereby have to agree.

Instead, he didn't say anything.

So I called him out and said "You're just going to ignore this? Ignore the public opinion?" (after all, I am in his district) He replied, "I suppose I am just going to ignore it." The worst thing about all of this? Sen Phil Jensen of District 33 runs unopposed [Weiland, online, 2014.02.01].

Weiland turns 18 this year. She's still too young to run against Senator Jensen (got to be 21 to serve in Pierre), but she will get to vote against him, and get her friends to vote against him, if some brave Democrat from District 33 will give her the chance.

49 comments

The Sioux Falls School Board taught us all a lesson in bullying this week. They taught us to let bullies win.

Earlier this month, the board caught heck for not going far enough in forcing students to recite the Pledge of Allegiance in the classroom. On November 12, the board wrote into policy an ongoing practice of requiring elementary and middle school students to say the Christian socialist flag-selling line daily. They declined to expand that policy to high schoolers, citing the incorrect and spineless answer that high schoolers are too busy rather than seizing the teachable moment and telling patrio-pietists that compelled speech is unconstitutional.

KELO and FOX News misrepresented that decision as a vote to ban the Pledge, and folks with nothing better to do went ape. School board members received death threats and other unconscionable calls and e-mails.

And Monday night, the school board gave in to that bullying and made the Pledge mandatory at all grade levels.

Well, not quite. The Sioux Falls School District covers its constitutional backside with the passive voice and a conscience clause. The policy now reads "The Pledge of Allegiance or other patriotic activity will be performed each day in Sioux Falls School District classrooms." It does not say by whom. Technically, a teacher could mutter the words herself on arrival, before kids get to class, and fulfill the letter of that policy.

The board also protects students who resist compelled speech:

Anyone who does not wish to participate in reciting the Pledge of Allegiance or patriotic activity for any personal reasons may elect not to do so. Students and school personnel must respect another person’s right to make that choice [Sioux Falls School District, Policy IMDB-R, revised 2013.11.25].

Imposing that onerous choice on students is still unfair. Some kids have the nerve to stand up to conformist pressure. But the school has no business creating more conformist pressure and dumping it in kids' laps to protect their own constitutional liberty against possible bullying. If certain adults are capable of making irrational threats against school board members for not passing a policy on the Pledge, certain children are capable of teasing and bullying fellow students who choose to stand out from the crowd by not performing a patriotic spectacle to prove their loyalty. The Sioux Falls School Board's pledge policy

This blog exists to tell bullies that they will not win. The Sioux Falls School Board should have the same goal. The Sioux Falls failed to uphold that goal this week.

p.s.: The Sioux Falls School Board opens each meeting with the Pledge of Allegiance. I wonder what would happen if a school board member chose not to mouth those words in unison with his or her elected fellows.

pp.s.: The Sioux Falls School Board did show a little common sense Monday when it backed off its proposal to ban teachers from watching their own kids in their classrooms after school.

25 comments

Two proposals in the South Dakota Legislature would do away with teacher tenure in South Dakota's public schools. Governor Dennis Daugaard does it the wimpy way as part of HB 1234, letting currently tenured teachers keep their tenure while granting it to no future teachers (because young teachers don't vote... except with their feet). Rep. Betty Olson (R-28B/Prairie City) does it straight up, eliminating tenure for everyone right away with HB 1145.

To justify her bill, Rep. Olson cited in committee testimony Wednesday three letters from Harding County School Board members who say that without Rep. Olson's bill, they can't carry out their duty to provide a safe educational environment for their children:

Olson read letters from three members of the Harding County School Board, which described their reluctance to fire a tenured teacher with a history of bullying students. Board member Casey Olson's letter said the board suspended the teacher without pay, but the district's lawyer advised the teacher probably would win an appeal if fired. Instead, they gave the teacher a different assignment with less responsibility.

"The board decided that due to the tight budget, it could not afford to lose a lawsuit," Casey Olson's letter said. "Now, our district is saddled with a teacher most of the parents don't want in the same classroom as their kids and the board is nervously hoping another incident does not occur" [Josh Verges, "School Board: Eliminate Tenure," that Sioux Falls paper, 2012.01.26].

Read that again: a majority of the Harding County School Board believes that a teacher is bullying students. The Harding County School Board is allowing that alleged bully to remain in contact with students.

These Harding County School Board members clearly misunderstand Rep. Olson's bill, state law, and their own duty.

  1. HB 1145 does not change the rules for firing teachers. It only changes the rules for not hiring teachers back for another year.
  2. State law allows school boards to fire teachers at any time for just cause. Boards can nuke teachers on the spot for "breach of contract, poor performance, incompetency, gross immorality, unprofessional conduct, insubordination, neglect of duty, or the violation of any policy or regulation of the school district." I'm pretty sure bullying students falls under more than a couple of those criteria.
  3. If students are in real danger, the board should be acting now. If parents and other staff know there is an adult predator in their school, the solution is not to repeal due process for every teacher in the state: the solution is to replace their lily-livered school board members with adults who take children's safety seriously.

Harding County doesn't have to wait for the end of the school year to remove this threat from their school district. If they have evidence of this bullying, that evidence will stand up in the board hearing and district court hearing and appeals provided under current South Dakota law.

And if the board doesn't have evidence sufficient to withstand legal scrutiny, then too bad. We do not take due process away from the vast majority of decent teachers to grease the skids for a few school board members who can't work up the courage to do their jobs.

5 comments

Zachary Miller is an 18-year-old graduate of Sioux Falls Lincoln High School. He's representing South Dakota in dramatic oral interpretation at the National Forensic League tournament in Dallas next week. He's gay.

His radical homosexual agenda (you know, the one the fundagelicals are warning us about): kindness, acceptance, and respect for all.

...Five years ago, at just 13, he came out to his parents.

"At one point during the summer I sat down with my mom and I told her," Miller said. "She said it was okay and it didn't change who I was, she still loved me unconditionally."

Miller says from that moment he knew he wanted others to feel the same acceptance. That's what brought him to the Lincoln High School oral interp team, which is ranked 12th in the nation out of more than 3,000 schools.

"I think oral interp has really given me the voice I've always wanted," Miller said.

Miller uses it to promote his message: That everyone deserves the kindness and respect he received when he came out. Even in school, his sexual orientation was rarely an issue.

"I didn't have as much of a problem with that as some would expect," Miller said. "In Sioux Falls, I'm really proud of the acceptance from classmates and wasn't ever bullied" [Katie Janssen, "Finding a Voice," KELOLand.com, 2011.06.02].

Oh, that dastardly liberal media, daring to tell us stories about young people speaking up for equality and decency.

I've had the pleasure of judging Miller in a few oral interp contests. He's very good. I'm proud to have had the chance to critique Miller and help strengthen his voice. I'm proud that he's representing South Dakota at Nationals. I'm proud that he's found the courage to acknowledge his difference at an age when being different can be really hard.

Perhaps most importantly, we should all be proud of the students, teachers, and parents at Sioux Falls Lincoln, who apparently have created a culture in which Miller and many other young people can grow and learn and succeed without the distractions of violent hatred.

3 comments

Speaking of bullying, a program Thursday, April 28, at Our Savior's Lutheran Church in Sioux Falls will bring two speakers to discuss how to stop bullying. And, unlike some confused Christians, the speakers probably won't be promoting violence as an answer.

Dr. Carl Pickhardt and Shane Windmeyer will lead a conversation on, as Windmeyer puts it, "what it means to be a person with integrity and to be inclusive of all people." Windmeyer knows something about the challenges of integrity and inclusivity in a small rural community: he "came out" as a gay man while at college in the small prairie college town of Emporia, Kansas. He and Pickhardt will talk about recognizing and preventing social cruelty, the kind of physical and psychological violence that happens as kids struggle to cope with "developmental insecurity, social instability, emotional vulnerability, and frail self-esteem." (I hate to say it, but that sounds like a diagnosis of the Tea Party.)

This program starts at 7 p.m. Thursday. Dr. Pickhardt and Mr. Windmeyer come to us thanks to the Center for Equality and Volunteers of America&ndashDakotas.

2 comments

Support Your Local Blogger!

  • Click the Tip Jar to send your donation to the Madville Times via PayPal, and support local alternative news and commentary!

South Dakota Political Blogs

Greater SD Blogosphere

SD Mostly Political Mix

Greater SD Blogosphere

Madville Monthly

Meta