LGBT Activists Slam South Dakota Religious Freedom Bill

People bow their heads in prayer during a Sunday evening service at Grace Orthodox Presbyterian Church in Lynchburg, Virginia, on January 17, 2016. The young evangelical Christians at Liberty University in Virginia are facing a dilemma this election season: whether to follow in the footsteps of their parents and back …
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LGBT activists have heaped criticism on South Dakota’s recently passed Religious Freedom Act, which provides protections for the exercise of religious liberty.

“Governor Kristi Noem is taking on the mantle then-Governor Pence assumed as the face of LGBTQ discrimination,” said Alphonso David, president of Human Rights Campaign (HRC), which describes itself as “the nation’s largest lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer (LGBTQ) civil rights organization.”

Despite the legislation making no mention whatsoever of LGBT rights or activities, Mr. David suggests that such a bill is an attack on gays, lesbians, and transgender people.

“While she may see discrimination as a path to the national far right spotlight, she should understand the damage she is doing to the state of South Dakota and LGBTQ people who are simply looking to live their lives free of fear and exclusion,” David said.

While asserting that religious liberty and LGBTQ equality “are not mutually exclusive,” David insists that a law prohibiting government from substantially burdening a person’s exercise of religion unless it is “essential to further a compelling governmental interest and is the least restrictive means of furthering that compelling government interest” is inherently discriminatory.

“Governor Noem is risking economic, legal, and reputational harm to South Dakota by signing a law that takes the state backwards, all while South Dakotans continue to suffer the severe consequences of her absolute failure to act to curb the COVID-19 pandemic in the state,” David said.

HRC was not alone in its criticism of the new law.

“We’re deeply disappointed to see this bill signed into law and are concerned that it will be used to justify harm to already vulnerable communities,” Janna Fairley, communications director for the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of South Dakota, said. “No one should be turned away from housing, health care, or critical social services because of who they are.”

The ACLU did not explain how keeping government from unnecessarily burdening a person’s exercise of religion equates to turning people away from social services or health care.

South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem signed the religious freedom bill into law on Wednesday as part of a legislative session that “defended the rights and freedoms of South Dakotans.”

The law was passed by the South Dakota House of Representatives this month and by the Senate in February.

Noem also announced this week that she will sign “a bill to ban abortions based on a diagnosis of Down syndrome very soon.”

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