If the world hates you, know that it has hated me before it hated you. If you were of the world, the world would love you as its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you. Remember the word that I said to you: ‘A servant is not greater than his master.’ If they persecuted me, they will also persecute you. If they kept my word, they will also keep yours. — Jesus, John 15:18-20


Bill to Protect Religious Freedom Killed in ‘Republican’ South Dakota Cmte

January 30, 2014   ·   By   ·   3 Comments

marriageA bill to protect clergy, lay officials, and religious organizations from homosexual activists who seek to punish them for not facilitating the counterfeiting of marriage was heard in the South Dakota Senate Judiciary Committee today.

SB 66 seeks to protect such religious figures from attacks like those seen in other states where homosexual activists have tried to leverage government and the courts to punish Christians who refuse to participate in their counterfeit marriages.

South Dakota Senator Ernie Otten, the bill’s prime sponsor, explained the intent of the bill. Otten said that having attended church all his life, he has heard for many years that the time might come when the Gospel would not be allowed to be preached. He said that given the level of intolerance being waged by homosexual activists today, that time may be fast upon us. Otten said it was important to note that this bill does not force any agenda on anyone, but rather protects South Dakotans from having someone else’s agenda forced on them by “strong arm tactics” or “financial means.” Otten pointed out that the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution was put in place to protect religious freedom, but that this is now in jeopardy because of intolerance of conscience. Otten said that the freedom to worship God according to the dictates of conscience is the core of liberty. He said he believed passage of this bill is important to protect freedom of conscience.

Also speaking in favor of the bill was Pastor and Rep. Steve Hickey. Hickey pointed out that the city in which he lives, Sioux Falls, is only 15 minutes away from a state that allows the counterfeiting of marriage, and that this issue is already upon us.

Hickey used the analogy of owning a natural health store. He said that as owner of this store, he might hold the belief that natural treatments are best and that pharmaceutical treatments are bad for you. If you come into his store and ask for a vaccine, he will not offer that product to the customer-not because he hates the customer or is a bigot, but because he genuinely believes it is bad for people. “If you want one, go where they have them. But what we do is natural health care,” he said.

Hickey said he and his church only promotes and does traditional marriage, not because they hate anyone, but because he is convinced for religious and scientific reasons that traditional marriage is what’s best for society and children. He said his church is sometimes rented for wedding receptions and such for people who are not members of his church, and someone from another nearby state might request to rent the building. It has been legally challenged in other states for Christians to stand by their convictions and refuse to render services that violate their consciences.  Hickey said we are heading down the road where there is no tolerance for Christian beliefs, and as is the case in some other countries, the choice is to “convert” to the other belief system or face persecution. Right now in Canada, Hickey said, it is criminal for pastors to preach from the Bible that homosexual behavior is wrong.

“Keep the state out of my church,” Hickey said.

He said that though we have an amendment to our constitution, the courts could overturn this constitutional protection any day. Contempt for Christian views is so strong among some, Hickey said it has even been asked about him: “Why do we even let a pastor in the legislature?”

During question time, Republican Rep. Jean Hunhoff said, “Rep. Hickey, just on your comment that you just made, you just said ‘Keep the state out of the church.’ But yet you want us to legislate so that a particular group of people would not be able to ask for participating or church ceremony. Is that correct?”

Hickey said that was true and that there was no conflict in what he had said. He said, “This bill says the state stops at our church.”

Hunhoff then asked if Hickey’s church received any state funding for marriages of any type, to which Hickey replied that it did not. Hunhoff then said, “Then if you have no connection and is there a history that a gay couple comes to you, that right now you can tell them no we’re not going to provide that service, is there anything now that stops you from doing that in this state?”

Hickey replied that it did not, but that we are seeing that sort of thing being perpetrated against Christians in other states and it is only a matter of time before it happens here.

Dale Bartscher of Family Heritage Alliance Action, who is also an ordained pastor, spoke in favor of the bill. Bartscher said the bill is pretty straightforward in its protection of religious freedom. As marriage becomes more and more redefined, he said, belief in marriage as between a man and a woman will be more and more characterized as an irrational prejudice that ought to be driven to the margins of culture. Bartscher said the consequences for clergy are becoming apparent through the news reports about laws being rewritten in other states. As a preemptive safeguard to protect religious freedom, Bartscher asked the committee members to pass SB 66.

Mark Chase of the South Dakota Family Policy Council said that it has been said that conscience is the most sacred of property. Chase said government officials in Washington D.C. have misquoted our founding documents, stating that we have “freedom of worship” when in fact it is freedom to practice our religion, not just on Sunday mornings or Wednesday nights in our church buildings, but outside of those buildings.  Chase agreed that it is only a matter of time before this freedom is challenged in South Dakota, and we need this firewall to protect religious liberty in South Dakota.

Linda Schauer of Concerned Women For America South Dakota pointed out that religious freedom is recognized in both our state and federal constitutions. Few things can be more offensive to religious freedom, she said, than forcing someone to violate their religious beliefs.

Rita Houglum of South Dakota Eagle Forum said that this goes beyond the mere definition of marriage we have in our state constitution, dealing with freedom of conscience, and in order protect that for the future, her organization urged passage of this bill.

Norman Woods of Family Heritage Alliance Action also spoke in favor of the bill on behalf of his pastor, Rep. Scott Craig, who could not be at the committee hearing. Woods read a statement from Craig which said we now live in a time when religious liberties are becoming increasingly restricted. If South Dakota assumes a position like that of California and some other states, protections like those offered by SB 66 will be necessary, the statement said.

Speaking in opposition to the bill was Karl Kroger a United Methodist “pastor” from Piedmont. Kroger said, “I’m here primarily to give you the message that was predominately given to people by the angels, and that is ‘Do not be afraid.’ You all don’t have to be afraid of this. It’s going to be okay. We’re not being persecuted. We have freedom of religion. As a pastor, I will not be forced to violate my conscience and perform a same-sex wedding.”

Kroger said that because of our constitutional protections, “I believe this law is not only redundant, but it’s irrelevant. You all can pass this. It doesn’t make that much of a difference, except for the message that you are communicating to people, including many of the people I imagine you’ve been hearing from, some of whom I imagine are supportive and others have probably wondered what in the world you’re doing. For folks who have communicated their thoughts in ways that have been rude and mean, I apologize and I think that’s incredibly unfortunate. Again I believe that you have the best of intentions, but you don’t have to be afraid. I would urge you to not pass this bill because I in fact think that Christianity will be strengthened by us providing a witness of grace and love, not one that’s based on fear. I thank God that we’ve moved past a witness that is full of hate and bitterness.”

There was no other opposition testimony.

Committee Member Senator Mike Vehle asked why this bill was needed in addition to what is already in the constitution and law, other than “to make some kind of statement.” Vehle indicated that in addition to the intolerance toward Christians that was mentioned in earlier testimony, he wondered about the intolerance face by “the other side.”

Otten replied that he began to look at legislation like this when he heard some time ago that a drive to repeal South Dakota’s protection of marriage might be mounted. He said he realized at that time, “The activists are going to come. They’re going to challenge us. And this was one way to get ahead of the curve.” Regarding intolerance, Otten said that he found it “repugnant” that activists were demanding that Christians must adhere to their beliefs.

Committee Member Senator Tim Begalka asked Schauer about statistics for other states where counterfeit marriage is allowed, and whether those states have protections such as the one being proposed in SB 66, and whether those protections remain in place regardless of their acceptance of counterfeit marriage. Schauer stated she understood that to be the case.

Vehle asked if passing SB 66 might infuriate homosexual activists into definitely launching a drive to repeal South Dakota’s constitutional marriage protection. Otten said he believed that fight was already on its way.

Begalka pointed out that there was nothing in the bill which specifically mentioned homosexuality or counterfeit marriage, and that it protects everyone in the state regardless of their beliefs. He said section two protects not only religious beliefs but philosophical ones as well. Begalka said he sees the bill as a reaffirmation of everyone’s freedom and saw no problem with passing the bill.

The committee ultimately voted to kill the bill 4-3:

Bradford Yea Hunhoff (Jean) Yea Kirkeby Nay
Monroe Nay Vehle Yea Begalka Nay
Tieszen Yea


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Bob Ellis has been the owner of media company Dakota Voice, LLC since 2005. He is a 10-year veteran of the United States Air Force, a political writer for the past decade, and has been involved in numerous election and public policy campaigns for nearly 20 years, including a Tea Party leader and organizer since 2009. He lives in Rapid City, South Dakota with his wife and two children.
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  • thisoldspouse

    The real question seems to be, what are the anti-Christian Leftists afraid of.

    • http://www.americanclarion.com/ Bob Ellis

      Exactly. I think they’re afraid too much freedom will be going on…freedom which exposes the moral and intellectual bankruptcy of their goals.

      The “pastor” use of a reference to fear here is also grossly out of context. The Bible does indeed tell us (at times) not to be afraid; those are the times when we are encouraged to walk in the path of God’s purpose.

      But there are times when the Bible tells us to be on guard, to be alert and not be taken in by the schemes of evil. And we are to be afraid of God’s wrath on unrighteousness (“Fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom”).

      When we’ve seen evil demonstrate its hostility over and over and over-and recently, at that-we would be fools not to fear the designs of evil.

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