Last March, the Chamberlain School Board received a letter from the King (as in Martin Luther King. Jr.) Center for Nonviolent Social Change asking the board to recognize the ongoing request of many of its constituents to include a Lakota honor song in its high school graduation ceremony. Long-time Chamberlain resident and Indian rights advocate James Cadwell asked the Board for an opportunity to discuss that letter publicly at its April meeting. Chamberlain superintendent Deb Johnson responded thus:

Jim,

You will be placed on the April 14 school board agenda under the 'delegation' portion to address the topic: Resolution Recognizing District-Wide Cultural Competence (7/12/10). You will be granted five minutes to present comments to the board. Please note that the honor song will not be addressed or discussed... [Supt. Deb Johnson, e-mail to James Cadwell, Chamberlain School District, 2014.04.10].

Ah, the administrative passive voice, a sure sign someone is saying something unpleasant that she doesn't want to own.

The Mitchell Daily Republic called the banning of discussion of the honor song unconstitutional. James Cadwell calls the speech ban a violation of his civil rights, and in July, he submitted a formal complaint to the U.S. Department of Education Office of Civil Rights:

6. Describe the discrimination: On what basis were you discriminated against?

Race; retaliation—I received a letter from superintendent Debra Johnson of the Chamberlain public schools that I would not be allowed to participate in the Chamberlain school board's meeting because I wanted to talk about the Native American honor song and the letter of support that was sent for the honor song from the Martin Luther King center in Atlanta, Georgia. I was also told by the school board president Rebecca Reimer that the honor song issue is a dead issue and we will not be talking about it anymore.

...8. What would you like the institution to do as a result of your complaint?

Follow their own bylaws and allow everyone to speak openly about their concerns with school policy. Resend the motion and change the bylaws back to allowing a subject to be discussed more than one time. This came about at the exact time the denial was given for further discussion of the honor song. And remove the change in length of time that was additionally imposed as a result of the request to further discuss the honor song. There currently are no Native American people serving on the school board, The time allowed for input was 10 minutes and has now been reduced to 5 minutes unless approved by the school board, as no Native American peers serve on the board this has never happened. I have seen many non-native people exceed the 5 minute rule without consequences being imposed. I however have been held to the 5 minute rule with a stop watch. Nearly 40% of the students in this school are Native American [James Cadwell, text submitted in support of civil rights complaint to U.S. Department of Education Office of Civil Rights, July 2014].

This complaint has bite because it speaks the one language that every school board understands—money:

OCR is responsible for enforcing Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (Title VI), 42 U.S.C. §2000d, and its implementing regulation, 34 C.F.R. Part 100. Title VI prohibits recipients of Federal financial assistance from the Department from discriminating on the basis of race, color, or national origin.

As a recipient of Federal financial assistance from the Department, the District is subject to Title VI [Joshua Douglass, supervisory attorney, Office of Civil Rights, letter to James Cadwell, 2014.09.03].

The Chamberlain school district receives hundreds of thousands of dollars each year in Federal Impact Aid as compensation for the large number of American Indian students from families living on federal, non-tax-generating property. According to the board's June 23 minutes, as of May 31, the district had a balance of $2.66 million in its Impact Aid account.

If the OCR finds Chamberlain is violating civil rights by stifling discussion of the Lakota honor song, it can order the board to remedy the situation or lose that valuable federal funding.The OCR acts on the authority of Title VI and federal dollars. A ruling on this one point would say to Chamberlain that it has been acting in ways that could cause it to lose a big chunk of federal dollars. Thanks to the cowardly misers we send to Pierre, Chamberlain and other school districts can't afford to lose a penny. If the OCR rules in favor of Cadwell on his complaint, it will hang a sword of Dollarcles over the Chamberlain school board's heads... a sword sharpened by Republicans themselves.

The Chamberlain school board could render this complaint and this threat to its federal funding moot with six simple words: "Mr. Cadwell, the floor is yours." They could let him speak at length about the King letter, the honor song, and civil rights. They wouldn't even have to respond, just listen. Listening isn't that hard... unless it's an invitation to a conversation that you don't want to have.

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Score another first for Rick Weiland: he is the first South Dakota politician I've ever heard referred to as "campy" and "queer." Not just campy and queer, but the campiest candidate in America and the queerest candidate in South Dakota. This is a good thing, says LGBT advocate Bil Browning:

For a straight man, Weiland is the queerest candidate in a bunch of stodgy conservative sourpusses and he's not afraid to tell anyone about his liberal plan to change the country. Weiland is tapped into what makes the LGBT community such a potent political force - the ability to be a little campy while fighting for justice for all people.

While Weiland is more than happy to talk about LGBT rights, he has zeroed in on the role of big money in politics and the damage it's causing to our government - a common refrain now from progressive politicians. Weiland, however, does it with such campy style that even the cynical find themselves falling under his spell [Bil Browning, "Rick Weiland: America's Campiest Political Candidate," The Bilerico Project, 2014.05.04].

Browning totally grooves to Weiland's Everywhere Man video. He also grooves to Weiland's roadtrip and to justice for everyone, as do a lot of voters and campaign donors.

Rick Weiland boring? Better drop that meme, Pat. Weiland is hitting notes that excite activists like Browning who see the tide rolling in their favor (Oregon! Utah! Idaho!) and may see a chance to pair a South Dakota electoral win to an impending courtroom victory.

Now if we could just get Stace Nelson to win the primary so we could see Nelson and Weiland go man on man. That battle would put Nelson's trumpeting of the Reagan line about flying "no pale pastels" in a whole new perspective.

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In the dog-bites-man column, Governor Dennis Daugaard says that Sen. Phil Jensen's defense of KKK-style discrimination is "completely out of line with South Dakota values."

It's not hard to gang up on a Republican Senator who says stupid things that are winning himself and South Dakota universal bad press. Jensen has it coming, and South Dakota has it coming for having a district that would elect him.

But Governor Daugaard hasn't spoken up very strongly about the discrimination Jensen tried to write into law last month. Asked by Mr. Montgomery about the bills Senator Jensen and others sponsored to absurdly disguise anti-GLBT bigotry as civil rights legislation, the Governor swung a softer stick:

"Most of them were solving problems we haven’t seen here," Daugaard said. "More legislation driven by things that are occurring in other places. I guess I don’t see those problems here in South Dakota that the legislation attempted to address."

I asked him about criticism by some that those laws were “mean-spirited” or “hateful.” Daugaard demurred.

"I don’t know that I could characterize the motivations of anybody who introduces legislation," Daugaard said [David Montgomery, "Daugaard on the Anti-Gay Rights Bills," Political Smokeout, 2014.03.19].

Montgomery notes that Lt. Gov. Matt Michels spoke much more strongly against those reprehensible bills while they were bubbling through the Legislature last month:

"There’s no place in our laws for these kind of words," Michels said, adding that he believes most South Dakotans agree. "There’s too much hate in the world and we don’t need it here" [Montgomery, 2014.03.19].

The Governor and other prominent Republicans stayed shamefully silent for too long about three-term legislator Jensen's bigotry. It has taken surging local pressure and the embarrassment of a national media firestorm to shame them into shaming Jensen.

Now let's see that shame turn into real change: Republicans backing any alternative candidate to Jensen in District 33.

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P&R Miscellany tries the now-familiar tactic of beating us liberals over their head with our own relativism and tolerance. P&R forgets that I'm not a relativist and I don't tolerate baloney.

P&R counters the successful backlash against South Dakota's failed anti-gay legislation by inviting us to shoe the other foot with the possibility that gay-hating Westboro Baptist Church members would demand to rent a party room from a gay entrepreneur, or that Klansmen would order catering from Harlem for a KKK wedding.

"Tolerance... should flow both ways," says P&R. The National Review correspondent he cites speaks similarly:

“Live and let live” implies a two-way relationship. Mutual respect is an attitude that, like the biblical leaven, has to be mixed in thoroughly and evenly, until the whole is leavened [Kevin D. Williamson, "Until the Whole Is Leavened," National Review Online, 2014.02.20].

P&R's and Williamson's own language grants us leave to dismiss their own argument. Their examples refer to customers who offer no two-way relationship (unlike bisexuals, who—well... um...), who do not respect the vendors with whom P&R hopes my liberal tolerance will mandate a relationship.

Gay couples don't walk into a bakery shouting, "God Hates Straights!" unless they are feeling really snippy and ironic. They won't yell at straight caterers, "Go back to Africa where you heteros belong!" That language doesn't fit the other foot.

Westboro's homophobes and the KKK seek the exclusion, damnation, and destruction of the people they don't tolerate. (Actually, I'm not convinced Westboro wants even that; they just want attention.) Gay couples just want to go about their business, then go home and give each other the business, pretty much like the rest of us.

Tolerance works, but it does not mandate the absurdity and moral surrender that P&R posits.

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House State Affairs voted wrong a lot yesterday. In two meetings, including a p.m. session that dragged into European supper time, House State Affairs decided to force all students to honor God and country at school, declined to end South Dakota's shady EB-5 program, continued to dodge their responsibility to restore our delinquent K-12 funding, refused to expand Medicaid, and refused to let us vote on expanding Medicaid.

But House State Affairs did offer one redeeming vote yesterday, killing House Bill 1251, the last bit of "Jesus says no cake for gays" legislation rattling about in the hopper. Like Senate Judiciary on Tuesday, House State Affairs stood unanimously against naked legal aggression against non-heterosexual South Dakotans.

HB 1251 sponsor Rep. Lance Russell (R-20/Hot Springs) worked hard to avoid mentioning the homosexuals his bill targeted. He pretended HB 1251 was all about "tort reform" and "freedom of contract" but really just fronting for the secret hope of bill supporters that they could drive homosexuals out of small towns by essentially closing all shops and jobs to them.

A couple of gay-panicking preachers backed Rep. Russell up, then got crushed by three of the same opponents who opposed HB 1251's mirror Senate Bill 128 Tuesday.

Lawrence Novotny from Equality South Dakota gently yet firmly made the same case for justice and equality. Teri Carlson of PFLAG made the same plea for equal opportunity for her two sons, one gay, one straight. Carlson again appropriately invoked Fred Phelps as an example of the insult HB 1251 would do to her family.

Tom Barnett of the state bar association returned with even more discursive testimony than he dished on SB 128. After invoking Nazi armbands for gays, snake-charming pastors, the Pledge of Allegiance ("Liberty and justice for most of us? Wink wink?") and Animal Farm, Barnett finally made his most important declaration, that HB 1251 and SB 128 were the most offensive pieces of legislation he'd seen in 30 years of lobbying.

House State Affairs saw the light. Or maybe they were just hungry. They killed HB 1251 and called it a day. Committee member Rep. Bernie Hunhoff (D-18/Yankton) said, "I'm proud to be a member of a Legislature that gives such short shrift to an offensive bill like this."

South Dakota's Republican-dominated Legislature does many things wrong. But Wednesday, nine Republicans and four Democrats got equality for non-straight South Dakotans right. Thank you, House State Affairs.

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Rapid City Stevens student Josie Weiland has raised a public ruckus about her legislators' shockingly specious and retrograde attitudes toward civil rights for all committed married people. Now she and fellow Raider Elle Fettig are taking their support for spouses of all stripes to the streets.

Weiland and Fettig are organizing a human rights rally tomorrow (Monday) evening, 5:30 p.m., at Main Street Square in Rapid City (which is no easy town in which to love the way you wish). Young people, members of the LGBT community, and local business owners will speak for equality and against Senate Bill 128, which would allow businesses to refuse to serve or even hire anyone who doesn't conform to their code of sexual ethics. (Remember, SB 128 would allow a gay boss to fire employees for acting too straight, and that's not cool, either.)

Weiland's Senator Phil Jensen (R-33/Rapid City) brought SB 128 forward. Weiland invited Senator Jensen to attend the rally to speak to the merits of the bill, but one public confrontation was all his fearful bigotry could take.

Senator Jensen and fellow Black Hills gaybashers Rep. Lance Russell (R-30/Hot Springs) and Rep. Blaine Campbell (R-35/Rapid City) have thrown another civil rights stink bomb into the hopper. In House Bill 1251, these legislators pretend that they are the Supreme Court, rule that the federal government has no authority to protect citizens from religious discrimination, and authorize the same marketplace discrimination sought by SB 128. Rallygoers, take note and challenge both SB 128 and HB 1251.

SB 128 gets its first hearing before Senate Judiciary on Tuesday at 8:00 a.m. Rapid City members of that committee are Senators Mark Kirkeby and Craig Tieszen. HB 1251 gets its first hearing before House State Affairs on Wednesday at (surprise!) 3:30 p.m. Rapid City members of that committee are Reps. Kristin Conzet, Brian Gosch, and David Lust. Josie, Elle, make some phone calls, speak loudly and proudly at Monday's rally, and see if you can get through to legislators with a clearer sense of equality and justice for all.

Related: Legislators in Arizona, Idaho, Kansas, Mississippi, Ohio, and Oklahoma are spewing similar anti-civil rights bile in their state legislatures. In Kansas, the Republican Senate President put a stop to it:

But the top Republican in the state Senate put a quick stop to the bill’s momentum, declaring that a majority of GOP lawmakers in that chamber don’t support it.

“A strong majority of my members support laws that define traditional marriage,” Senate President Susan Wagle said. “However, my members also don’t condone discrimination” [David A. Lieb, David Crary, and Rachel Zoll, "Gay Marriage Foes Scrambling at State Level After Setbacks," that Sioux Falls paper, 2014.02.16]

Keep shouting, Josie and Elle. Even some Republicans will listen.

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South Dakotans interested in justice and equality, you have at least two candidates for U.S. Senate who are willing to stand against the South Dakota Legislature's urge to roll back civil rights. Democrat Rick Weiland has condemned Senate Bill 128, the Orwellian proposal that brands intolerant bullying as tolerant "anti-bullying" legislation.

Now Independent candidate Larry Pressler joins Weiland in urging South Dakotans to reject SB 128. In an e-mail to the Madville Times, Pressler says his opposition to this immoral legislation comes naturally from his history of supporting civil rights:

...I am very strong on civil rights—I marched with Martin Luther King as a young man. I was about the only Republican member of the Senate to be a co-sponsor of the equal rights amendment for women in the 1980s, and I was a co-signor of the Amicus Brief to the Supreme court on gay marriage [Larry Pressler, e-mail to Madville Times, 2014.02.04].

SB 128 seeks to protect business owners from the economic harm of civil rights lawsuits from classes of customers against whom too many religious South Dakota legislators want to discriminate (because bad behavior should have no consequences, right?). Harking back to the practical argument he made last spring for South Dakota to legalize gay marriage, Pressler says discriminatory bills like SB 128 could do greater damage to South Dakota's economy than any civil rights lawsuit. SB 128 could result in the closure of Ellsworth Air Force Base:

As a practical matter for South Dakota, we must be very careful not to be the "Mississippi of the North," and we have some very practical interests. For example, it has been the policy of Republican and Democratic administrations in Washington that gay persons can serve openly in the military. The Ellsworth Air Force Base has been on the closure list before, and I have fought to keep it here in South Dakota. There will be married gay people reassigned from other states, including Air Force facilities as close as Minnesota. Those gay soldiers will want to adopt children, own property, and get married in South Dakota. The criterion for retaining an Air Force Base is a friendly atmosphere to the soldiers who might be assigned there. Any sign that gay personnel are not welcome in South Dakota would harm Ellsworth's chances of remaining an open base.

As a Vietnam veteran, I spend part of my time volunteering to help homeless veterans and other veterans. I belong to the American Legion, the Veterans of Foreign Wars, and the Disabled American Veterans, and I can assure you that they will all be actively seeking more gay members now that gays are openly welcomed in the military. South Dakota does not want to get on the wrong side of this issue [Pressler, 2014.02.04].

Big business may be as hesitant to station their rainbow staffs in an openly gay-hating South Dakota as the military:

Also, as a second practical matter, we now have many national businesses, foundations, and labor unions in our state, and we want more. They have moveable personnel policies, and they may want to assign gay married persons or gay persons to South Dakota. If we are the "Mississippi of the North," we will not have those assignments.

And perhaps I am being unfair to Mississippi, as it has now advanced its civil rights, perhaps beyond many northern states, but what I am saying is that we don’t want to get ourselves into a position that is viewed as anti-gay [Pressler, 2014.02.04].

Pressler, like Weiland, says all U.S. Senate candidates should enunciate their position on Senate Bill 128. But Pressler also urges South Dakota to "move on to positive economic development issues."

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Sanity, sweet sanity... from Republicans!

Rep. Anne Hajek (R-14/Sioux Falls) finds Senate Bill 128, which would protect bullying based on sexual orientation as a perfectly reasonable expression of religious freedom, just one example of "scary" legislation with which her party embarrasses South Dakota:

"The media picks up on these bills and people think about moving to South Dakota and they say, 'Oh, crazies are out there," Hajek said.

At Saturday's Legislative Coffee, Hajek spoke openly about the Senate Bill 128, calling the bill quote "scary." She isn't backing off those comments.

"Discrimination is so near and dear to my heart that I am very troubled that anyone would propose that legislation," Hajek said [Leland Steva, "Republican Lawmaker Disgusted with Legislation," KELOLand.com, 2014.02.03].

Thank you, Rep. Hajek.

Also earning kudos for Republican sanity is Sen. Ried Holien (R-5/Watertown), who responds to anti-SB 128 petitioner Alexis Krivoshik with this apology for sponsoring SB 128:

I want to apologize to everyone on this list that my name is attached to SB 128. In the first few weeks of session, we get presented hundreds of bills to sign on. In this case, I was in two different conversations and signed on thinking this was a different bill. Please look at my legislative history and see that I have no history of sponsoring similar bills.

I wish I had a better excuse, but I don't. I wish I could remove my name from this bill, but I cannot at this time. Please know that I will vote against it if I have the chance.

Please know that I am sincerely sorry.
Sincerely,
Ried Holien
State Senator, District 5 [Change.org, 2014.02.03]

Apology accepted, Senator Holien, with great relief. I am deeply heartened to know that there are some legislators, like Rep. Hajek and Sen. Holien, who seem less interested in fighting the culture war and more interested in doing serious policy... for all South Dakotans.

23 comments

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