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Anti-Civil Rights Bills Bad for Business

Feb 5, 2014

I've written previously on these pages that the South Dakota Legislature doesn't do a great job of building South Dakota's brand with a broader audience. The 2014 Legislature continues its poor performance, making South Dakota sound like a haven for folks who want to erase the Civil Rights Act.

First this session came Senate Bill 67, a bill intended to protect religious bakers from the terror of having to make wedding cakes for homosexuals. As worded, SB 67 would have permitted shopkeepers, lawyers and perhaps public officials to deny services to any married couple whose union somehow didn't square with their religious beliefs. Got divorced and remarried? Sorry, I'm an old-school Catholic, and divorce is a sin. You're a white woman, and you married a Lakota man? Sorry, St. Paul tells me no miscegenation, so you can't stay in my motel. Yeesh!

After some public outcry, prime sponsor Sen. Ernie Otten withdrew SB 67, not because he saw the light of equality, but because he concluded that the discrimination he craves is already legal.

Worse, some of his conservative colleagues quickly followed up with Senate Bill 128, which goes beyond the wedding-cake homophobia of SB 67 to allow bosses to fire employees because of their sexual orientation, to nullify federal civil rights laws, and to impose legislative restraint on the judicial branch.

Responding to criticism from a young constituent at a Rapid City cracker barrel on Feb. 1, SB 128 author Sen. Phil Jensen farcically called his bill an "anti-bullying free speech bill." The only free speech SB 128 protects is the speech of bullying businesses that want to hang signs on the door reading "Straights Only."

Technically, South Dakota law already gives Senators Jensen and Otten the right to discriminate against homosexuals as their bills advocate. We already ban same-sex marriages. Our public accommodations law does not include sexual orientation as a protected class. That law does ban sex discrimination, and the federal government does interpret sexual orientation as an expression of sex.

But South Dakota's law and these proposals from our legislators make our state look bad. SB 128 has drawn negative out-state attention. Some Republican legislators are backing away from this civil rights black eye. U.S. Senate candidate Rick Weiland calls SB 128 a return to Jim Crow. Independent candidate Larry Pressler has warned that SB 128's retrograde attitude toward civil rights could cost South Dakota jobs and Ellsworth Air Force Base (why would Uncle Sam keep a military installation in a place where its soldiers' gay spouses couldn't get jobs?).

Senators Otten and Jensen can swing their religious fists all they want. But their rights end when their Bible-clutching fists start hitting other people's noses. SB 67 sought and SB 128 seeks to drive certain people out of South Dakota businesses. Unfortunately, such proposals will drive even more people away, and drive some South Dakotans out of business.

Editor's Note: Cory Heidelberger is our political columnist from the left. For a right-wing perspective on politics, please look for columns by Dr. Ken Blanchard on this site.

Cory Allen Heidelberger writes the Madville Times political blog. He grew up on the shores of Lake Herman. He studied math and history at SDSU and information systems at DSU, and has taught math, English, speech, and French at high schools East and West River.


12:16 pm - Thu, February 6 2014
Ed said:
Banning traffic cameras HB1100 prime sponsor democrat Rep. Peggy Gibson of Huron get's 69-1 win in the house.
As a republican I thought I'd better report it.
09:44 pm - Thu, February 6 2014
So Ed, you're saying Democrats are doing a better job of protecting Constitutional liberties (in this case, against warrantless search) than Republicans?
05:30 am - Fri, February 7 2014
Ed said:
I get tired of hearing SD ain't doin nothin right in Pierre and thought someone should hear if this ain't right. Agree???By the way Bernie votes for what is good for SD a hell of a lot of times. He is my favorite democrat in SD. Even when he looses. And I miss Frank K. in the legislature. Sorry you have to take your unrelenting challenges to a good source of news on the SD Magazine web sight.
08:15 am - Fri, February 7 2014
Porter Lansing said:
Mr. Heidelberger- Thank you for your unrelenting challenges to the older angry white-privileged male conservative hate machine dominating Pierre. Until tolerance trumps prejudice your blog is our "shining light on the hill."
12:47 pm - Sat, February 8 2014
dave tunge said:
Do we need any legislation that compels or denies business owners the right to operate their establishments as they choose? We are a nation, or state, of people with many differing opinions. Satisfying everyone is an impossibility and trying to do so just keeps the lawyers happy.
In my opinion it seems anti-productive for anyone to try to do business with those who do not want their business. If I'm not happy with the treatment I get from a retailer I simply go somewhere else.......
Government already maintains a stranglehold on businesses and we don't need more laws telling who, or who not, the owners should serve.
08:47 am - Sun, February 16 2014
Robert X said:
SD already has laws on the books banning racial discrimination, yet we don't see blacks immigrating to SD by the tens of thousands. In fact, according to the US Census Bureau, SD's in-migration exceeds MN's (land of the tolerant & accepting) so there's no evidence that creating more protected classes attracts immigrants, customers, or tourists.

Ironically, SD has laws on the books banning religious discrimination in public accomodations, yet this author has routinely and repeatedly expressed his anti-Christian bigotry without shame. In this very screed for example, the author claims that, "Otten and Jensen can swing their religious fists "---yet, he offers no basis for connecting their legislative efforts to ANY religious intention. But never doubt the author's magical ability to discern evil intent using his anti-Christian crystal ball. So much for intelligent discourse. One must conclude from his writings that this author "discriminates" when he feel likes it because he knows bad discrimination (i.e., everyone else's) from good (his). This author has also supported urban chicken farming and raw milk that surely leaves potential visitors, immigrants, and customers chuckling and wondering if S. Dakotans are truly civilized while living amongst the chicken scat and listeria.

One also has to question the value of the views of a foreigner who has no idea on how to run a business telling S. Dakotans what laws they should pass and what is bad for S. Dakota businesses--a retort of "hey, mind your own business" comes to mind. The author's claim that this "make[s] our state look bad" is not only unfounded and wrong, but fraudluent.

Par for the course.
02:12 pm - Mon, February 17 2014
larry kurtz said:
Mr. X is as "fraudluent" as they come:
08:42 am - Wed, February 19 2014
"Fraudulent" is a big word that really doesn't apply here. Saying that we want to legalize discrimination and deny service to an entire class of citizens makes South Dakota look bad. There's no deception to that claim. It's pretty straightforward.

As mentioned in yesterday's Senate committee testimony, just going elsewhere isn't a viable option in small-town South Dakota. We are too small of a community to exclude each other over religious or political disagreements. We can't afford not to do business with any chunk of our neighbors. We have to do business with each other.

Dave, the Jim Crow-era "Whites Only" lunch counters down South show us that yes, we do need legislation to compel business owners to operate their establishments in accordance with American principles of equality.
08:50 am - Sun, March 2 2014
Robert X said:
Yet, according to Gallup, SD maintains its high ranking for well-being:
Time after time, in survey after survey, South Dakotans enjoy their lives while living in their state. One must conclude that this author’s views— from frantic hand-waving about perceived homophobia to his strange anti-Christian rants about legislators scheming against gays—are views that are out-of-step with reasonableness and fairness. South Dakotans recognize that what is found in the First Amendment means something, and should mean something in their work-a-day lives; this author refuses to acknowledge its existence since it conflicts with his views. Yes, the First Amendment, and its counterpart in the South Dakota Constitution, does discriminate against those who are religiously intolerant. What we’re left to debate then is a balance of rights, common interests, and acceptable social and business etiquette. When in conflict, the Constitution prevails—this author purposely left that out.
In the end, South Dakotans of all stripes should take a moment to denounce the kind of extremism and anti-Christian intolerance expressed in this column—South Dakotans enjoy their state and enjoy their freedoms notwithstanding this author’s views, not because of what he rants against.

One should wonder why he left.
09:24 am - Mon, March 3 2014
Robert X said:
In other areas, SD seems to be doing well, in spite of all those hateful legislators dreaming of ways to discriminate against gays.

South Dakota 6th in population gain from 2010 to 2013:

CNBC ranked South Dakota No. 1 for affordable places to do business; Top 10 for Business Friendliness, Economy, and Quality of Life.

For all the bluster, it seems this author is ginning up his own hate to further his causes with witch hunts for religious bakers and bible clutching fists; the reality of S. Dakota is quite different than this author's chicken-little screeches.

That's not very South Dakotan.

Lastly, the author's claim that there is a gay marriage ban in SD is just not accurate. Language matters--let him find one married gay couple who have been thrown in jail or turned away at the border for their marital status.

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