Last week we discussed Dell Rapids coach and Augie grad Nathan Alfson's announcement that he is gay. This week we get the news that his announcement will not cost him his job. Catholic school Dell Rapids St. Mary's will continue to employ Alfson as their girls volleyball coach.

The Sioux Falls Catholic Diocese says we shouldn't be surprised that a Catholic school would allow an openly gay man to remain on the payroll. And indeed, we should not be: in  a perfect world, no employer would inquire into the private, personal activities of its employees. No religious employer would dither over the various sins of their employees that do not affect the employees' ability to perform their jobs.

And even if there are some Christians who maintain that homosexuality is a sin, we should not expect it to be news that Christian institutions employ people who sin. As I understand theology, everyone who works for a Christian institution sins (even the Pope!). If we go around firing sinners, we're going to have a severe labor shortage.

Let us hope that the best public outcome of the news about Nathan Alfson is that someday, similar announcements of love and employment will not be news.

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I told the Miller School District in May that their decision to allow the Gideons to distribute Bibles to fifth graders was unconstitutional. And the Miller School District listened!

Actually, they listened to the American Civil Liberties Union, which sent the Miller School District a complaint outlining the obvious church-state-separation problem of a public school letting religious groups proselytize on campus. Last month, the school board reversed its Bible-distribution policy and told the Gideons and other converters to hand out their tracts elsewhere.

This reversal is a small but instructive victory for us liberals trying to bring secular sanity to South Dakota. The Miller board president's comments on the reversal explain why:

"It's been through the court system and everything. We've got to follow the letter of the law," said board president Tim Zacher.

The reversal came after the ACLU sent a letter to the Miller School District in May saying the school was on "shaky constitutional ground" by allowing religious literature to be distributed in a public school.

...Zacher said he was disappointed the board was forced to change its policy and disallow the Bible distribution.

"Our founding fathers felt God very strong in this country," he said.

The Bibles had been distributed in previous years at Miller, though Zacher didn't know for how long.

"We had never had a bit of problem with it before," he said. "I guess that's the way it is" [David Montgomery, "Miller School Board Reverses Policy Allowing Handout of Bibles," that Sioux Falls paper, 2014.07.30].

Never had problem before... there's a key phrase. We may think that conservative Republican fundagelicanism is just entrenched in South Dakota culture and institutions. But Miller shows that bad policy may be less entrenched and simply unchallenged. As long as there's not a problem, nothing happens. But create a problem, or even warn there could be a problem, and local leaders may surrender. The ACLU didn't have to lawyer up; they just wrote a letter, showed the Miller school board that the Constitution was not on their side, and got the proper result.

That's why, instead of retreating to Minnesota and other saner political spheres, I keep encouraging my fellow South Dakota liberals, atheists, and other lovers of freedom to stand up and fight. Not every school board or city council will surrender before superior logic and law. But many will, preferring to avoid conflict and headlines. If we challenge every instance of local theocracy and other oppression, and if only 25% of the boards we challenge give in without a fight, those few easy victories give us that much more precedent for fighting hard against the remaining 75% to get liberty and justice for all... including liberty for our fifth-graders from Gideons, jihadis, Satanists, and atheists who may try to co-opt school grounds to advance or denigrate specific religions.

*   *   *

Under the Constitution schools cannot intentionally, or unintentionally, advance religion or become too entangled with religious groups. The courts have repeatedly said that schools must also avoid favoring or appearing to favor a religious view, and they may not create any situation in which students feel coerced to participate in religion. These constitutional protections ensure that students can find and follow their own faith with the guidance of their family and religious leaders, free from government intrusion [ACLU, press release, 2014.05.12].

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Uh oh—Satanists.

Like many observers, Tim Gebhart wrote in June that the Hobby Lobby decision opens the door to exemptions from law for members of all sorts of religious sects on the basis of religious claims that the Hobby Lobby declared off limits to judicial inquiry.

I'm still waiting for our Lakota neighbors to head for their Hills with this precedent. But with an apt "I told you so," Gebhart this week gets to point to the Satanists, who are making a religious claim to an exemption from informed consent laws imposed on women seeking abortions in places like South Dakota:

The Satanic Temple... is specifically invoking Hobby Lobby for exemptions from state-mandated “informational” materials used as a part of informed consent.  It says it believes “the body is inviolable – subject to one’s own will alone” and the belief “is fundamental to our religious philosophy.”  It reasons that requiring women to receive “biased or false” information that is based on politics and not science is an “affront” to that belief [Tim Gebhart, "Not to Say I Told You So, But...," A Progressive on the Prairie, 2014.07.31].

How does a woman get out of the propaganda to which South Dakota law subjects her if she wants an abortion? She just hands this letter to her doctor, and poof! the Roberts-Alito court should excuse her from Leslee Unruh's fact-free sermons and South Dakota's insulting 72-hour waiting period.

Unfortunately, along with declaring sincere religious belief in inviolable bodily autonomy and supremacy of one's own scientific conclusions over state-mandated propaganda, the letter also declares one's adherence "to the principles of the Satanic Temple."

Great, just what Leslee Unruh, Gordon Howie, and Ted Cruz are hoping for: women seeking abortions to put in writing that they worship the Devil.

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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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