Republicans cloaked another attack on equality in the language of religious liberty with Senate Bill 124. The bill carves out room for religious zealots to exercise their bigotry in public office, potentially refusing to serve citizens whom they deem sinners in the eyes of their angry god, and prohibits municipal governments from enacting more stringent protections from religious bigotry.
Darn near everyone in the Legislature (except for three attentive Democrats in the House) voted for this religious discrimination bill. The Human Rights Campaign explains that, like much else of our Legislature’s bigotry, SB 124 is part of a nationwide drive toward theocracy by Pence-ive Republicans:
On Wednesday evening, South Dakota Governor Kristi Noem signed Senate Bill 124, a religious refusal bill that could grant a license to discriminate against LGBTQ people across a wide range of goods and services in South Dakota. In 2015, then-Governor of Indiana Mike Pence signed a similar piece of legislation into law that encouraged widespread discrimination from medical providers, child welfare providers, businesses, government officials and taxpayer-funded entities. Mississippi also passed a RFRA in 2016. As reported by The 19th, this is among 36 anti-LGBTQ “religious freedom” measures coursing through state legislatures as part of a national flood of anti-LGBTQ legislation and an effort by national, far-right extremist groups to sow fear and division for political gain. This represents one of two anti-LGBTQ bills signed into law in the 2021 session, along with HB 2536 in Mississippi, an anti-transgender sports ban bill [Wyatt Ronan, “South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem Signs Religious Refusal Bill, Creating First Major RFRA Law in Six Years,” Human Rights Campaign, 2021.03.13].
Add SB 124 to our transgender athlete ban, and South Dakota could face some severe economic repercussions. HRC claims Indiana lost big money for its discriminatory action:
The backlash from the business community and voters was swift, and Pence soon became a national disgrace. Pence’s discriminatory bill had enormous consequences for Indiana’s economy and reputation. Indianapolis’s non-profit tourism agency estimated that in their city alone, Pence’s anti-LGBTQ bill cost up to 12 conventions and $60 million in lost revenue.
The State of Indiana had to spend $365k of taxpayer money on a PR firm to help dampen the backlash and attempt to restore the reputation of Indiana.
A report by the Associated Press detailed that “12 out-of-state groups were surveyed and all said that the state’s controversial religious objections law played a role in their decision to hold their events elsewhere” [Ronan, 2021.03.13].