South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem Signs Religious Refusal Bill, Creating First Major RFRA Law In Six Years

by Wyatt Ronan

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.

Governor Kristi Noem is taking on the mantle then-Governor Pence assumed as the face of LGBTQ discrimination by signing the first so-called 'Religious Freedom Restoration Act' in six years. 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. South Dakotans believe in religious liberty and LGBTQ equality — those two values are not mutually exclusive. 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.

Alphonso David, Human Rights Campaign President

Indiana passed a similar bill which cost them $60m in lost revenue

Voters strongly disapproved of Indiana's religious refusal law and punished Pence for signing it

  • And polling conducted by HRC after the 2015 fight found that 75 percent of Hoosiers said the law was bad for the state's economy, and 70 percent of those surveyed said they opposed it.
  • Following the embarrassing fallout, his approval ratings tanked with voters and Pence decided not to run for re-election. Yet, his appalling record on LGBTQ equality won him a place on the ticket with Trump as his running mate. Now, Pence has been working behind the scenes at the White House to push his own disgraced values onto the national stage.
  • A poll conducted by the Indianapolis tourism department showed that the city was still facing the lingering repercussions of the reputational harm it incurred as a result of the legislation a year later

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