Travis Betsworth, general manager of the Original Pancake House in Sioux Falls, categorically denies an accusation that it fired an employee for praying with customers.

Mr. Betsworth said this afternoon, "We would never fire anybody for praying." Quite the contrary, Betsworth says he himself has taken time to pray with customers at their tables during regular business hours. Many church groups come to his restaurant; Betsworth estimates some sort of Bible study or other church-related activity is taking place in his restaurant five days out of each week. Many religious customers leave church cards in the store tip jar.

Betsworth was responding to an accusation leveled by a paid political spokesman for failed Senate candidate Annette Bosworth. The spokesman claims that waitress Shauna Rose was fired for praying with Bosworth and her spokesman just before the primary:

The first time I met Shauna was just before the June election. She was working as a waitress at the Original Pancake House in Sioux Falls. I went in with my friend Dr. Annette Bosworth when we were on our way to a press conference. We prayed at the table before breakfast and Shauna, who knew Dr. Bosworth, bowed her head with us.

Shauna was fired by the Original Pancake House a couple of days later. She was told by a co-worker that it was for praying with us.

Guess where I’m not going to eat pancakes again? [paid spokesman for Annette Bosworth, "Update on Dakota Reporter and RIP Shauna Rose," "Dakota" Reporter, 2014.07.25]

Betsworth says he has no knowledge of the alleged interaction between Bosworth, her spokesman, and Rose. Betsworth says that if he had witnessed such a prayerful interaction on the job, he would have praised Rose for treating customers so well. He would not give further details on managerial decisions affecting Rose's employment at Original Pancake House, but Betsworth flatly denied that Rose would have been fired for praying with a customer. Betsworth says he and the restaurant's two other managers make staffing decisions cooperatively, and no such decision to fire any employee for praying has taken place on his watch.

Rose died in a motorcycle accident on July 16. Betsworth says Rose was "very loved" at the restaurant. Many employees attended Rose's funeral, says Betsworth, and he believes the owners of the restaurant sent flowers.

Independent candidate for lieutenant governor Lora Hubbel made a public statement online yesterday citing the Christian discrimination accusation to discourage people from eating at the Original Pancake House, whose Sioux Falls shop on West 41st is the Oregon-based company's only South Dakota franchise. Betsworth says that prior to his interview with the Madville Times, he was not aware of any calls for boycott, complaints made to the store, or the original accusation of religious discrimination. Betsworth says no other bloggers or reporters had contacted him to inquire about Rose's employment at Original Pancake House prior to this Sunday interview.

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Following our extensive discussions of the Supreme Court's Hobby Lobby decision, and amidst the heat and bother over Gordon Howie's statement that life begins before sperm meets egg, Larry Kurtz sent me an essay by the Guardian's Jessica Valenti arguing that we shouldn't use health reasons as an excuse to protect women's access to contraception. We defenders of women's rights facilitate the fundi-puritan narrative, Valenti says, when we shy away from stating the obvious: women deserve to enjoy sex without the fear of getting pregnant, just like men.

It's also OK – wonderful, even! – that women use birth control to have sex and not get pregnant. Even more wonderful: it works. The advent of contraception is arguably the most important liberatory discovery for women of all time. We're allowed to use it. And not just for our periods – but to have hot, sweaty, fantastic, fun, non-procreative sex. That doesn't make us "sluts"; it makes us human [Jessica Valenti, "Women Like Sex: Stop Making 'Health' Excuses for Why We Use Birth Control," The Guardian, 2014.07.08].

Dang—adopting Valenti's courageous stance means we all have to stop thinking sex naughty. (Uh oh: someone is going to unload on me for that one!)

Sioux Falls writer Dianna E. Anderson calls the "American evangelical purity culture" patently absurd. In a post on contraception and intentionality, Anderson writes that the crowd that cheers Hobby Lobby's anti-contraceptive discrimination against women thinks using birth control is worse than unplanned hookups:

The rules about keeping oneself pure end up creating a world where unsafe, “unintentional” sex is better than sex that you plan to have and embrace fully. Sex in the heat of the moment can be excused, written off as a good person getting caught up in emotion. But sex that you plan for, sex that you intend to be safe and protected? That evinces a moral failing of the person, as someone deliberately choosing to disobey God [Dianna E. Anderson, "Unlearning Purity Culture: Intentionality," blog, 2014.07.16].

Andersons sees stronger, healthier sexual ethics in taking control of one's sex life, talking about and planning what one does with one's partner, rather than viewing oneself as a "passive receiver" of that thing that just kinda happened. Sex based on intentionality means women experience less fear and more empowerment.

Less fear and more empowerment—I look at my wife and daughter and think, "What could be wrong with that?

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If an omnipotent God is under attack by mortals, isn't the proper response a shrug?

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Rep. Kristi Noem, Senator John Thune, and celebrate the passage of the Black Hills Cemetery Act, which transfers ownership of nine Black Hills cemeteries to local communities:

I am thrilled to see the U.S. Senate take up this important legislation and finally put it on the President’s desk for his signature.... These cemeteries tell the stories of the people and communities that built their lives in rural South Dakota over the last two centuries.  I’m proud the federal government will now turn ownership of these sacred grounds to their rightful owners:  the communities that have maintained them for generations [Rep. Kristi Noem, press release, 2014.07.09].

How nice to see Republicans support the restoration of sacred grounds to their rightful owners

—uh oh. The Black Hills are replete with American Indian burial sites, but the sacredness of the Paha Sapa goes beyond the known and unknown graves:

The entire Black Hills are sacred, not just one place, one burial site, one prayer site. There is a sacred energy field around the Black Hills. How far does it extend? One elder said that it continues about 50 miles around the Black Hills. How can people who believe that only man-made designations, such as a church or a cemetery are called sacred, understand a sacred space and landscape that extend for hundreds of miles? That is why Defenders of the Black Hills have as our motto: "Remember, the Black Hills are sacred." We ask only that respect be given for another peoples' understanding of spirituality. Maybe that respect will begin to generate more concrete actions that will contribute to the restoration of these sacred grounds [Charmaine White Face, "The Sacred Black Hills," Sacred-Sites.org, downloaded 2014.07.11].

Now you may think talk of sacred energy fields is hooey (if so, how do you feel about the Bakken?), but the Supreme Court made clear in the Hobby Lobby decision that the state is not to question religious claims.

So with Congresswoman Noem surrendering federal land to locals with beliefs in the sacred value of the land, her support for handing the Black Hills over to the Lakota people cannot be far behind.

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Chuck Clement finds a couple of honyockers preaching on the bypass in Madison. The basic gist of their bad theology: remarried divorcees are adulterers, women should shut up, and salvation depends on your action, not God's:

Two men who are working in South Dakota this summer paid a proselytizing visit to Madison on Tuesday. Wilbur Graybill and Ryan Luedeker, both Missouri residents, held signs displaying a few of the tenets held by the Church of Monett, a religious institution located in a southwestern Missouri community.

Holding one white placard with black lettering that announced "To be married to the divorced is adultery," Graybill said the sayings displayed on the hand-held sign followed Jesus Christ's teachings from the Sermon on the Mount. Other sayings on Graybill's signs included "True Christians don't use guns or lawyers against evil," "Christian women are meek, quiet and modestly dressed" and "You must change for Christ to accept you" [Chuck Clement, "Missouri Men Preach Along SD-34 Bypass," Madison Daily Leader, 2014.07.09].

I invite Deb Geelsdottir, about whose clothing I cannot pass judgment but who has struck me in the comment section as anything but meek and quiet, to offer a Lutheran explanation of the mechanism by which Christ "accepts" us. I also invite readers to share the Scripture where the Lord says, "Don't ever hire an attorney."

I also recommend these men be careful which Madison women they call un-Christian for not being meek and quiet... and I warn them to say no such thing to my daughter, whom my wife and I will continue to teach to resist such patriarchal oppression. They might also want to watch out for my Christian friends who've married fine people who happened to have bad marriages before who raise good kids and uphold Christian principles.

The Missouri preachers make a fair point that signs are an easy way to get attention and reach lots of people. But I hope they complement their public display with a willingness to engage in honest conversation face to face with the sinners whom they condemn... assuming they are willing to even entertain a conversation with a woman who disagrees with their preaching.

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This week's Hobby Lobby ruling gives District 33 residents all the more reason to vote for Robin Page to replace Phil Jensen as their State Senator. Last session, Senator Jensen tried to legalize anti-LGBT discrimination under the risible guise of protecting his co-religionists from homosexual bullies. Left in office, Jensen may follow the lead of religious leaders who are already trying to leverage the Hobby Lobby ruling into a defense for Jensenesque discrimination:

...A group of faith leaders is urging the Obama administration to include a religious exemption in a forthcoming LGBT anti-discrimination action.

Their call, in a letter sent to the White House Tuesday, attempts to capitalize on the Supreme Court case by arguing that it shows the administration must show more deference to the prerogatives of religion.

"We are asking that an extension of protection for one group not come at the expense of faith communities whose religious identity and beliefs motivate them to serve those in need," the letter states [Molly Ball, "Hobby Lobby Is Already Creating New Religious Demands on Obama," The Atlantic, 2014.07.02].

I'm not a Christian (and the fourteen individuals who signed the "Please let us discriminate" letter to the President appear to represent exclusively Christian organizations), so I'm going to need the believers in the audience to help me out. How does saying to a job applicant, "You're transgendered, so I'm not going to hire you" advance your Christian faith and mission? Or, more to the point of the planned executive order to which the letter seeks an exemption, how does requiring you not to deny employment to folks who've had sex-change operations or to men who kiss men when you take federal contracts for work in the secular realm hinder the free exercise of your religion?

If the Bible says, "Don't hire sinners," doesn't that reduce your job applicant pool to zero?

Phil Jensen fought last session for anti-LGBT discrimination as religious freedom. Religious leaders are picking up Hobby Lobby as a club to further promote that fight. We will need more legislators like Robin Page to fight back.

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What do you get when you combine the Hobby Lobby ruling, executive orders, and Indians? A formula for one of South Dakota Republicans' worst nightmares: the Alito-Roberts Court opening the door for Barack Obama to give the Black Hills back to the Great Sioux Nation.

Ruth Hopkins lays the groundwork:

To say that the Black Hills (Kȟe Sapa) hold special significance for the Oceti Sakowin (The Great Sioux Nation) is an understatement. They’re not only our traditional homelands, where our ancestors once lived, they’re sacred. The Black Hills are the birthplace of our Nation, where we rose from Mother Earth’s womb. Our legends took place there. The Black Hills itself is a terrestrial mirror of the heavens above and thus forms the basis of our ancient star maps and Lakota astronomy. The entirety of Kȟe Sapa is a sacred site. Our rituals observe the natural cycles of the planet and our Universe. There are ceremonies that we must conduct at specific locations within the Black Hills. These ancient ceremonies benefit the whole of humanity. No, we aren’t talking about dirt protected by ‘No Trespassing’ signs. Kȟe Sapa is holy ground. It is where we are meant to pray [emphasis mine; Ruth Hopkins, "Reclaiming the Sacred Black Hills," Indian Country Today, 2014.06.28].

A core doctrine of Justice Alito's majority opinion was that we (the Court, the State, the people making laws) do not inquire into religious claims. We don't throw out a lawsuit from Hobby Lobby or the Lakota people just because we think the religious beliefs on which it is based are poppycock. If we adopt the thinking that Alito adopted to accept without scientific inquiry Hobby Lobby's religious (and counterfactual) claims that certain birth control methods cause abortion, then we must accept without judgment Hopkins's assertion that her people must perform their prayers at Bear Butte, Pe 'Sla, and other holy sites and that said prayers benefit all of humanity (awfully generous of you folks, Ruth!).

If the government must exempt Hobby Lobby from a federal law to ease its owners' religious queasiness about remote moral culpability for female employees' medical choices, then surely the government must act to protect the ability of the Oceti Sakowin to carry out one of their fundamental religious mandates to serve humanity with prayers in the Black Hills. And how better to protect that religious exercise than to hand the Black Hills back to its rightful pious owners, if not by legislation, then by a stroke of the Presidential pen?

Working with both Tribal and Treaty councils, the group is hopeful that they can develop a realistic plan to present to President Obama, and perhaps, the U.S. Congress. New Jersey Senator Bill Bradley introduced a bill in 1985 that would have transferred 1.3 million acres of forest in the Black Hills back to the Great Sioux Nation. Unfortunately the bill was unsuccessful. Even if Congress is unwilling to pass legislation to return the Black Hills to the Oceti Sakowin, it is within the President’s power to perform the task by Executive Order [Hopkins, 2014.06.28].

I'm still looking for the statute or precedent that makes clear the President's authority to transfer federal land like the Black Hills National Forest to any other entity, sovereign or private. But what better land to surrender than land that serves a crucial religious purpose and that nearly everyone, including the courts, recognizes was taken illegally in the first place?

Hopkins says Oceti Sakowin leaders will meet with President Obama to discuss the Black Hills in 2015. Just imagine President Barack Obama signing that order, shaking hands with Ruth Hopkins and her friends, and saying, "Threaten to impeach me? This is what happens."

Handing the Black Hills back to the Oceti Sakowin would be payback in many ways. It would also be one logical extension of the Supreme Court's view of religion expressed in the Hobby Lobby case.

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While the Supreme Court imbues corporations with the power of religious belief, Justice Samuel Alito points quietly toward the logical political response:

Justice Samuel A. Alito Jr., writing for the court’s five more conservative justices, said a federal religious-freedom law applied to for-profit corporations controlled by religious families. He added that the requirement that the companies provide contraception coverage imposed a substantial burden on the companies’ religious liberty. He said the government could provide the coverage in other ways [Adam Liptak, "Supreme Court Rejects Contraceptives Mandate for Some Corporations," New York Times, 2014.06.30].

medicare-for-allHow can the government provide the health care coverage that Hobby Lobby and ACA-trashing conservatives will gleefully deny? By doing what Rick Weiland says and going back to what the Affordable Care Act should have offered in the first place: a universal public option. Medicare eligibility for everyone.

Consider the implications of today's Supreme Court ruling for employees:

  1. The ACA is intended to remove some of the grit from the labor market by guaranteeing some basic protections in health insurance.
  2. The Hobby Lobby/Conestoga Wood ruling throw that grit back in the wheels, increasing the homework workers have to do to figure out whether their current or prospective employers offer health plans that meet their needs.
  3. An applicant going into an interview wanting to learn about the company's health insurance plan and exemptions in coverage must ask questions that, under today's rulings, are treated as fundamentally religious questions.
  4. Asking such questions opens the door for the employer to ask—or at least wonder about—the applicant's religious beliefs. Good heavens, she's asking whether our health plan covers contraception. Is she one of those heathens who thinks women deserve access to basic health care? We can't let her corrupt our employees!
  5. If holy companies can Swiss-cheese their health plans, their employees can't switch to better coverage in the ACA Marketplace, since the Marketplace only takes applicants whose employers don't offer coverage.
  6. Therefore, we need to elect a Congress that will revisit the ACA, open the Marketplace to all willing customers, and offer all Americans the chance to buy into a publicly funded health insurance option that offers them the same stable, reliable coverage no matter what sort of religionists they work for.
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