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S.D. Gov. Noem shouldn’t impose her prejudices, says FFRF

The Freedom From Religion Foundation is admonishing the South Dakota governor for foisting her anti-LGBTQ perspective on South Dakota’s universities.

In a letter dated May 25, Gov. Kristi Noem outlined a list of goals she wants the South Dakota Board of Regents to achieve with the purpose of “revitalizing the institutions under its control and leading the nation by example.” The list makes it clear that her actual aim is to censor viewpoints she is personally uncomfortable with and to demonize LGBTQ-plus students on college campuses.

Most indicative of this purpose are Noem’s back-to-back contradictory statements regarding free speech and drag shows on college campuses. Here are the relevant portions from her communique:

“4. Some universities have restricted free speech in topics some deem ‘offensive.’ The Board of Regents should remove any policy or procedure that prohibits students from exercising their right to free speech.”

“5. Our universities should not be hosting and/or promoting drag shows, regardless of whether they are sponsored by a student organization. Board of Regents should prohibit drag shows from taking place on university campuses.”

FFRF is asking the governor to immediately reverse course and ensure that all students’ right to free speech is protected, including those she disagrees with.

“As governor, you have a responsibility to uphold the First Amendment rights of all South Dakota residents, regardless of your personal beliefs,” FFRF Equal Justice Works Fellow Kat Grant writes to Noem. “Your call to censor drag performances, regardless of their actual content, isolates a specific viewpoint for censorship. Viewpoint discrimination is an especially potent concern animating free speech jurisprudence. While you may take personal issue with drag performances, you may not abuse your position as governor to censor student groups who view drag performances as a celebration of gender identity and expression simply because that view is contrary to your own.”

The law regarding the constitutionality of banning drag shows is sparse but rapidly developing. In a recent decision in Tennessee, a federal judge ruled that the state’s law requiring drag performances to be restricted to age-limited venues is “an unconstitutional restriction on the freedom of speech.” A blanket ban on drag shows on college campuses clearly violates the very right to free speech Noem claims to be so fiercely protective of. She says in her letter to the Board of Regents: “Colleges need to implement policies and practices that develop and strengthen resiliency among students. Students need to be prepared to address opposing ideas in a civil way, and we have a responsibility to provide an environment that prepares them to do so.”

Exactly, says FFRF. That’s why it's unconstitutional for Noem to silence one form of speech on campus simply because she disagrees with it.

“The governor is clearly pandering to Christian nationalists and forcing her prejudices onto South Dakota’s institutions of higher learning,” says FFRF Co-President Annie Laurie Gaylor. “Many of her past statements clearly show her embrace of conservative religion and regressive values — and here she is doubling down on these.”

You can read the full FFRF letter to the governor here.

The Freedom From Religion Foundation is a national nonprofit organization with more than 40,000 members across the country, including members in South Dakota. Our purposes are to protect the constitutional principle of separation between state and church, and to educate the public on matters relating to nontheism.

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To become an FFRF member, click here. To learn more about FFRF, request information here.

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