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.


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.


Julie Rovner follows up on a report she did for NPR in 2012 noting that Hobby Lobby and other corporations who want to deny women coverage for birth control are still discriminating on the basis of sex and pregnancy under the Pregnancy Discrimination Act, as determined by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission in 2000. Furthermore, 28 states require insurers to cover FDA-approved contraceptive drugs and devices; 20 of those states offer religious exemptions, just as the Affordable Care Act did before yesterday's Hobby Lobby ruling, but few if any go as far as saying private corporations can hold religious beliefs and get out of covering contraception.

South Dakota has no such independent contraceptive requirement for insurance policies. Rep. Joni Cutler tried to create one with House Bill 1156 in 2010, but the bill did not pass the House. Senator Ed Olson offered a more general defense of contraception in 2008 with Senate Bill 164:

...It is the public policy of this state that the interest in freedom from unreasonable government intrusions into the private lives of citizens, and specifically the right of consenting individuals to obtain and use safe and effective methods of contraception without interference by governmental entities, shall be safeguarded and that the laws of this state shall be interpreted and construed to recognize and protect these rights [2008 SB 164, Section 2(3)].

Senator Olson's bill also would have clarified that contraception is not governed by South Dakota's abortion statutes, including the statute that allows pharmacists to refuse to fill prescriptions if they think those prescriptions will be used for abortions... the same false pretext under which Hobby Lobby won its battle in the war on women before the Supreme Court yesterday.

Worth noting: both Olson and Cutler are Republicans. They are no longer in the Legislature, but they demonstrate that when South Dakota Democrats blast the Hobby Lobby ruling and demand that health care decisions be made by women and their doctors, not their bosses, they can find a few allies and win a few votes across the aisle.


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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