But let’s not fall for Lee Schoenbeck’s nice-guy act, or for Julie Frye-Mueller’s hogwash about Lee’s being an “East River liberal.” The Watertown Senator may be clearing out some Republicans he brands as crazies to support his bid for Senate power, but he’s happy to sign on with GOP wackies like Steven Haugaard to keep waging their culture war against Americans who don’t love and pray the way Lee thinks his God says we all should.
The American Civil Liberties Union of South Dakota notes that, even as the United States Supreme Court was writing up its landmark ruling that sex discrimination includes discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity, Schoenbeck was joining a whole bunch of yahoo legislators (not just South Dakotans, but also Kansans, Tennesseans, Texans, Oklahomans, and a couple of Michiganers) to urge the Supreme Court to allow foster-care agencies to discriminate against same-sex couples and others disfavored the wackies’ religious beliefs:
Sens. Jack Kolbeck, Lee Schoenbeck and Jim Stalzer, Reps. Fred Deutsch, John Hansen, Steve Haugaard and Sue Peterson and former Rep. Tom Holmes filed a brief earlier this month asking the U.S. Supreme Court to rule it legal for taxpayer-funded foster care agencies to assert a religious objection to accepting families of different faiths, families that do not attend church, same-sex couples or unmarried people.
If the Supreme Court accepts Catholic Social Services’ position in Fulton v. City of Philadelphia, it would not just mean LGBTQ+ and Two Spirit people could be turned away, but people who are Jewish, Muslim or Mormon could also be turned away by failing to meet an agency’s religious test.
“When agencies accept taxpayer dollars to provide government services, they do not have a license to discriminate,” said Libby Skarin, campaigns director for the ACLU of South Dakota. “Child welfare advocates agree that the needs of children in our child welfare system must come first and that turning away qualified families will hurt the more than 400,000 kids in our nation’s foster care system. By choosing to sign on to this brief, these legislators are sending a message to LGBTQ+ and Two Spirit South Dakotans that their elected officials don’t believe they should live free from discrimination” [ACLU South Dakota, press release, 2020.06.16].
Counsel Skarin understands discrimination better than any of Schoenbeck’s yahoo colleagues: she testified pointedly against our own Legislature’s discrimination-in-adoption bill, 2017 SB 149, now SDCL 26-6-36 through 26-6-50, which allows state-funded adoption agencies to deny adoption applications from any parents they deem insufficiently religious. Haugaard co-sponsored that odious bill; Kolbeck and Stalzer voted for it.
Schoenbeck and South Dakota’s discriminators cry to the Court that requiring adoption agencies to include all qualified parents in their pool will exclude faith-based organizations from getting public dollars to help connect children with parents. If religious groups can’t discriminate against the sinners they deem unworthy of parenting, they’ll all get out of the adoption business, and then no kids will get adopted. The amicus brief essentially holds children hostage, saying that if the state doesn’t permit sex discrimination under the guise of religious freedom, little orphans will be doomed to life without parents. What the theocrats are really saying is that preventing homosexuals, transgender Americans, and other deviants in the eyes of their angry God from participating fully in society is more important than ensuring that every child gets the best shot at participating at all in society with the help of loving, qualified parents. (Loving and qualified—those of us less religiously zealous than Lee might say that’s redundant.)
Alas, Schoenbeck was so busy writing checks to Republican primary challengers that he may not have paid attention to the lazy lawyering in the brief he signed. The amicus brief seeks support in all religions:
Historically, care for orphaned and abandoned children was a responsibility fully accepted and undertaken by religious society. The full measure of spiritual worship and religious doctrine led religious leaders to follow the literal commands of fundamental texts, which, from their origin and across the major faiths dogmatically pronounce that caring for orphaned and abandoned children is an obligation and duty of the highest order.
Care for orphans is commanded repeatedly in the Islamic tradition….
The Hebrew Scriptures evidence “profound concern” for widows and orphans including not just children who are orphaned but also those abandoned….
For Christians “Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress…” [Brief of Amici Curiae Current and Former State Legislators in Support of Petitioners, Fulton v. City of Philadelphia, United States Supreme Court, 2020.06.02, p. 11].
But remember, the friends of Fulton aren’t talking about the right to care for children (which may arise from religion or, as I as an atheist dad can attest, may not). They are claiming a right to decide who gets to care for children. The Muslims, Jews, and Christians whose holy texts the amicus brief invokes all deserve the right to raise children, but the amicus brief craves the right for each of those sects to deny all other sects (infidels! menaces to our One True Faith and the children we must raise as Allah/Yahweh/Jesus commands!) that same right. The friends of Fulton are fighting not only to practice their religion but to prevent others from practicing different religions.
That is not how the First Amendment or the Bill of Rights as a whole works. We don’t get to use our rights to stifle the rights of others.
But apparently, that’s not how the purportedly moderate Senator Schoenbeck and his fellow theocrats in Pierre see it.