The slope is getting real slippery these days.
After the Supreme Court issued its “narrow” 7-2 verdict in favor of a Christian baker who turned away a gay couple, a conservative lawmaker in South Dakota claimed faith-based businesses should also be allowed to discriminate against people of color.
On Monday, State Rep. Michael Clark referred to the outcome of Masterpiece Cakeshop v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission as a “win for freedom of speech and freedom of religion” in a Facebook post. When Clark’s followers asked if he felt that people of faith should also be able to deny service to, say, black people or Latinos, he did not back down.
“He should have the opportunity to run his business the way he wants,” Clark wrote. “If he wants to turn away people of color, then that [sic] his choice.”
The Republican walked back his remarks on Facebook when commenters reminded him that refusing service to individuals based on their race or national origin is prohibited under the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Clark admitted that “jumped in on [the issue] a little bit too fast” and edited the initial post.
But when the Sioux Falls newspaper Argus Leader initially reached out to the legislator for comment, he appeared not to change his tune all that much.
“If it’s truly his strongly based belief, he should be able to turn them away,” Clark said of Jack Phillips, the Lakewood, Colo. baker at the center of the Supreme Court case. “People shouldn’t be able to use their minority status to bully a business.”
The right-wing lawmaker added that if customers didn’t like it, they would put the bakery out of business: “The vote of the dollar is very strong.”
But after the story attracted national attention, Clark backtracked yet again.
“I am apologizing for some of my Facebook comments,” he said in an email to the Argus Leader. “I would never advocate discriminating against people based on their color or race.”
Clark added on Facebook that his initial statements were “very racist.”
“I made some comments here on Facebook, defending a Colorado Baker [sic] decision not create a cake for a Homosexual [sic] wedding,” he wrote. “[…] Businesses should not be able to discriminate solely based on race, sex, national origin, age, or handicap. My comments were made in haste, with the belief that businesses should be able to operate with fewer constraints of a heavy-handed government.”
“Of course, I was wrong,” Clark continued, “all business should serve everyone, equally.”
It should be noted that even in his final apology, the groups of people that businesses should not be allowed to discriminate against do not include queer or transgender individuals. That’s perhaps fitting for a candidate who supported legislation allowing adoption agencies to deny placement to same-sex couples and urged Gov. Dennis Daugaard to sign a discriminatory bathroom bill targeting trans students.
“Girls should shower with the girls and boys should shower with the boys,” Clark said of HB 1008, which was vetoed by Daugaard following a threatened boycott by LGBTQ groups.
The representative further called trans people “in between, unsure, confused, or otherwise.”
Following Clarke’s series of half-apologies, local Democratic groups have called for him to resign from the race for South Dakota’s House District 9. In a statement, South Dakota Democratic Party Executive Director Sam Parkinson referred to his remarks as “disgraceful and disgusting.”
“Anyone who is okay with a business discriminating on the basis of race has no business in the State Legislature, or in any elected office,” Parkinson claimed. “Rep. Clark should drop out of his race for re-election, and leaders in the South Dakota Republican Party should join us in our call for him to drop out. […] The people of South Dakota deserve better.
Clarke, who ran unopposed in the GOP primaries, will face off against Democrats Toni Miller and Michael Saba in the November general election—as well as Republican Deb Peters. District 9 voters tap two representatives to the state legislature.
But Clarke is just one of a handful of conservatives who have claimed their religious identity permits them to discriminate against minority groups in the wake of the Supreme Court’s 7-2 verdict, which weighed whether the Colorado Civil Rights Commission treated Phillips fairly and not whether he had the Constitutional right to turn away same-sex couples.
John Kluge, a former teacher at Indiana’s Brownsburg High School claimed his religious beliefs prevented him from calling transgender students by their correct name and pronouns, calling LGBTQ identity a “dangerous lifestyle.”
After Kluge claimed he was forced to resign, local conservative groups started a letter-writing campaign in protest of the decision.
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