Thursday, January 23, 2014

A Minor Musing About The South Dakota Legislature, SB 67, And Prometheus

Serious conservatives, a designation that excludes the likes of Gordon Howie, Bob Ellis, the Prairie City Pistolier Representative Betty Olson, have frequently reminded me of the mythological Prometheus. They warn their political opponents and remind their supporters that nearly every political action has unintended consequences. Prometheus, for those who may have forgotten, warned Zeus that Thetis, a minor goddess Zeus lusted after, was destined to bear a son greater than his father.

Prometheus's foresight had some limits; he could not foresee details that affected him. He could see that humanity would benefit from fire, but he could not see what providing humanity fire would do to him. Prometheus, therefore, stole the forbidden fire, gave it to mortals, and, consequently, was chained to a mountain for millennia. He also got to experience the thrill of a vulture dining on his liver every day.

South Dakota Representative Rev. Steve Hickey, a usually serious person, has taken to the comments sections of The Madville Times and Dakota War College to defend the merits of SB 67. The main focus of debate has been Section 3 which allows all bakers and wedding planners to refuse to provide their services to gay couples seeking to get married.

The bill's second section, however, is much more troubling:
 Section 2. Nothing in the Act is intended to burden any person's or personal business' freedom of religion including the right of a person or personal business to deny services if providing those goods or services would be contrary to the person's or business' sincerely held religious beliefs, philosophical beliefs, or matters of conscience.
Unless there's a secret codicil I'm missing, this section opens the door to many unintended consequences. The atheist businessman, as a matter of conscience, can refuse service to anyone wearing religious symbols. The Klansman's philosophical beliefs can allow him to refuse service to any African-Americans. The pacifist Quaker can refuse service to any member of the military on religious and philosophical grounds. As a Lutheran, the sole grocer in a small South Dakota town can refuse to serve the Catholic priest because of sincerely held religious beliefs.

It seems that this bill designed to ensure the free exercise of religious liberty may well give free rein to bigotry; however, like Prometheus the folks who usually see unintended consequences that others overlook are missing this one because they are involved just like Prometheus was involved in bringing fire.

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