Tuesday, February 2, 2010

HB1144 will grow liberty and equality in South Dakota!

I just sent this letter to my reps about HB1144, which is likely headed (with bipartisan support) to State Affairs Committee next week.

Dear Rep. ....

I am writing to urge you to join other West River Republican representatives that have already signed on to co-sponsor HB1144, which is going into committee soon. HB1144 will add several classes of people to an existing statute that prevents discrimination in the workplace, housing, and other areas.

My support for this issue comes from my experience as a friend, a husband, and a parent. It also comes directly from my Episcopal faith; I pledged at my confirmation to "respect the dignity of every person."  I volunteer with Integrity USA and Equality South Dakota and have been involved in this issue for many years.

We recently had a discussion of why protected classes are necessary at Rapid City school board meetings. (I highly recommend you view some of the discussion, it's online at: http://tinyurl.com/rcsb-2010jan07 - the discussion begins at about 20:15 into the video stream.)
NOTE - The RCAS website is not playing sound on the video - updated link soon I hope.

I was reminded at these meetings that most people why such policies are necessary – they directly address existing inequities caused by prejudice. By spelling out these groups that have been clearly demonstrated to face discrimination in law, this gives just enough support to give those people a fair shot at success in the workplace, finding decent housing, and other places. 

Also, contrary to testimony you will likely hear, laws and policies like this do not generate litigation... except perhaps in cases where litigation is warranted!  For example, although it was a political hot potato of sorts, this winter the Rapid City School District was merely *reinstating* a policy prohibiting discrimination for reason of sexual orientation. This policy was previously in place for almost a decade (2001-2008) with no lawsuits, contrary to the warnings brought forward at the meeting. Our State's university system has had a similar policy for 20 years without an epidemic of lawsuits. Honestly, this is South Dakota. We don't have a big problem with frivolous lawsuits.

Opponents will assert that human rights laws like the one HB1144 amends do not protect freedom of speech. This is not true. You can say whatever you want about protected groups under the First Amendment, but this law makes it clear that you cannot unfairly discriminate or harass anyone, even if they belong to one of the protected groups. The group designation is needed not because these groups need special rights. Rather it is needed because there is a demonstrable need (and moral imperative) to protect a group based on our experience in society.

Please support HB1144. It's good for South Dakota business, it's good for our State's image, it totally supports South Dakota values of liberty... and I think it's simply the right thing to do.

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