A Year In Review with the ACLU

This year, we showed up.

For more than 100 years, the ACLU has been showing up in the courts, in the streets, and in the halls of power to defend the rights that the Constitution guarantees to everyone.

In the past year, the ACLU of South Dakota saw both new and ongoing challenges to civil rights and liberties. But each and every time, the ACLU and our supporters showed up to fight back every step of the way.

No matter the issue, we continue to strive for a democracy that is just and equal for all. Here are some of our highlights of how we showed up in 2023.

SD Year in Review

We showed up to support freedom of expression

South Dakota lawmakers tried – and failed – to ban drag during the 2023 legislative session.

The ACLU of South Dakota opposed House Bill 1116 and House Bill 1125. Both bills would have violated First Amendment protections and provoked a broader cultural suppression of LGBTQ+ and Two Spirit people.

It's important to remember that drag is a form of creative expression, and just like dance, fashion, and music, it is protected by the First Amendment. It’s discriminatory and unconstitutional to single out male and female impersonators in a bid to shut down their speech. If our elected officials are uncomfortable with drag shows – no matter where they are performed – they do not need to attend the performances. Nor do they need to take their kids.

South Dakota would be a drag without drag, after all!

We showed up for abortion rights

In April, a federal judge issued a ruling that would block access to mifepristone in abortions, in every state. The unprecedented ruling has the potential to strain abortion clinics and providers across the nation who are already grappling with the effects of Roe v. Wade being overturned and abortion banned in states like South Dakota

That’s why the ACLU and abortion rights advocates organized a rally to fight these efforts to undermine abortion access and to help change the narrative around reproductive health care in South Dakota. 

Those who care about reproductive freedom and bodily autonomy didn’t stop with just a rally. We spent the summer connecting with abortion rights supporters at several in-person events and virtual meetings to talk about what’s next and how to move the fight forward. It was a small, but important step to changing the narrative around abortion and reassuring people that abortion is essential health care that people across our state need – regardless of their political affiliation, their income, their race or their faith.

We showed up for First Amendment Rights

You can’t say “IH8U,” but “YUH8ME” is OK. 

Don’t call someone a “JRKFACE. Try “JRKYBOY” instead. 

And sorry, “BEERMOM” – you can’t enjoy a cold one. But “BEERMAN” can.

Confusing? Yes. But those were the rules – at least when the state’s Motor Vehicle Division was making them in regards to vanity license plates.

That’s why the ACLU of South Dakota filed a federal lawsuit challenging South Dakota’s personalized license plate law and the Motor Vehicle Division’s policy that infringed on the free speech rights of all South Dakotans.

In December, the state agreed to settle the case and has amended its personalized license plate law and the Motor Vehicle Division’s policy and will no longer be putting the brakes on personalized license plate applications because they might carry “connotations offensive to good taste and decency.”

We showed up for Indigenous Peoples

For the first time in nine years, the United Nations Human Rights Committee reviewed U.S. compliance with the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR). The American Civil Liberties Union and the ACLU of South Dakota joined dozens of other U.S. civil society organizations in Geneva, Switzerland, in October to petition the U.N. to hold the U.S. government accountable for policies and practices that violate the treaty. 

The ACLU urged the U.N. committee to investigate the desecration and exploitation of the Black Hills sacred Indigenous sites, detailing the guarantees and promises from the U.S. federal government to the Tribes that have been broken. The devastating effects of mining and trespass onto the Black Hills interferes with Indigenous religious ceremonies that take place within several individual sacred sites.

The First Amendment protects religious equality for all; people of every religion, not just the majority faith, have the right to hold and to exercise their religious beliefs. In the context of Indigenous Peoples and sacred landscapes, there can be no exercise of religious freedom if the foundation for the practice of one’s belief system has been forever decimated. For Indigenous Peoples, whose belief systems and spirituality are intimately tied to the land to which they belong, exercise of religion is intimately tied to the protection of sacred landscapes.

Ready to join us for all that lies ahead in the new year? Keep informed! 

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