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Legislature slow to protect religious expression

by Greg Belfrage

A bill that would have protected clergy who refuse to take part in same sex marriages has been narrowly defeated.

The Senate Juciciary Committee narrowly rejected the measure in a 4-3 vote.

The bill was sponsored by Senator Ernie Otten, who fears that radical activists are preparing to take on South Dakota's consitution. The state constitution says marriage is between one man and one woman.

Otten failed to convince senators of the need for the bill, as some said pastors may already decline same sex marriages without fear of being sued.

Since state law carries less weight than the state consitution, its hard to see how the bill would have prevented a judge from overturning the state's constitutional definition of marriage.

However, I've been taken aback by some of the responses to the bill. There seems to be a feeling among some state lawmakers that religious freedoms aren't being threatened.

That might come as news to Hobby Lobby. The Christian-based company is suing over a federal government mandate requiring them to offer contraception coverage to employees. Hobby Lobby is one of a number of businesses who feel this is an attack on the religious freedom of employers.

There's also the case of Sweet Cakes bakery. The Christian couple that own and run the bakery were recently found to be in violation of Oregon state law for refusing to make a wedding cake for a homosexual couple.

Meanwhile, a New Mexico photographer is taking her case to that state's supreme court. She was found to have violated the civil rights of a gay couple by refusing to take photos at their same sex wedding ceremony.

One month ago, there was the annual flurry of stories on the war against Christmas. This year, there were several schools and government offices that went so far as to prohibit wrapping paper that had the word "Christmas" on it.

Religious liberty is under vigorous assault. It is beyond ignorant to suggest otherwise.

Otten's bill didn't appear to be the right one. The debate was certainly worthwhile, however, as it demonstrated that state lawmakers have an important question to ponder.

Will they be proactive to protect religious expression in our state... or will they continue to pretend that 'all is well'?

Greg Belfrage is heard mornings 6am-9am on KELO Newstalk 1320 AM / 107.9 FM. Greg can be contacted at greg.belfrage@mwcradio.com. You can also follow him on Twitter.