Read House Bill 1220, and you might think you're just reading a redundant, mostly harmless restatement of freedom of religion. Representative and Pastor (red flag) Scott Craig (R-33/Rapid City) and a bunch of other conservative Republicans (warning) wrap some definitions and legalese around the basic idea that "No state action may burden a person's right to exercise of religion" unless there is some compelling state interest. That, and you can't punch anyone for Jesus or have two wives. First Amendment already has that covered, right? Rep. Craig and friends are just posing for the cameras, right?
Oh no. Huffington Post says HB 1220 is part of an intensifying conservative campaign against LGBT Americans:
...[R]eligious freedom regulations are not new, and the federal Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) already says that the government cannot substantially limit a person's religious freedom unless it can prove a "compelling government interest." But some of the new state language could go beyond that law.
Lawmakers in Indiana, West Virginia, Arkansas, South Dakota and Oklahoma are all pushing bills that could have the same effect as a controversial Arizona bill that was vetoed last year by a Republican governor. These bills allow any individual or corporation to cite religion when defending against a private party. For example, a recent ACLU complaint alleged that a Denny's restaurant in New Mexico refused to serve a pride group, calling the customers homophobic slurs. Under this sort of legislation, it's possible that the restaurant could cite religion as a defense if the case made it to court [Dana Liebelson, "Inside the Last-Ditch Conservative Campaign to Target LGBT Americans," Huffington Post, 2015.02.04].
Yup: Rep. Craig is taking us right back to last year's attempt to protect fervent Christians from "the bullying of anti-straight folks." Senator Phil Jensen's bill on this topic last year was too blatant, mentioning sexual orientation specifically. This year's effort to legalize discrimination under the guise of piety (and yes, Senator Jensen is a co-sponsor) buries its intent in more general language.
HB 1220 offers cross-wearing bigots this litigatory club:
Section 3. A person whose exercise of religion has been burdened, or is likely to be burdened, in violation of this Act may assert the violation or impending violation as a claim or defense in a judicial proceeding, regardless of whether the State of South Dakota or one of its political subdivisions is a party to the proceeding. The person asserting the claim or defense may obtain appropriate relief, including relief against the state or its political subdivisions. Appropriate relief includes injunctive relief, declaratory relief, compensatory damages, and costs and attorneys fees [House Bill 1220, posted 2015.02.03].
Under HB 1220, if a gay couple goes to the Sioux Falls Original House of Pancakes to celebrate their engagement, and if the devout manager refuses to serve them because God will smite OHP down for facilitating a celebration of sin, and if the gay couple sues for discrimination in a public accommodation, OHP can sue right back for religious oppression.
Permit the atheist in the blogosphere to remind the Christians in the room of some basic theology: if you run a business and refuse to serve sinners, you won't have any business.
HB 1220 could go further: it could peel away anti-bullying rules at school. Thugs could yell homophobic slurs at other children and tell their victims they're going to hell. If the picked-on kids complain and the principal calls Mom and Dad, the bullies' parents can simply say their children were simply expressing their religious belief that homosexuality is a terrible sin. HB 1220 knocks the legal legs out from under the conscientious principal's duty to protect children from such harassment.
Be on alert, friends of equality: HB 1220 is another effort from South Dakota's Religious Right to carve for themselves the right to oppress others with what what they profess to be faith.