Media Contact

Janna Farley,

February 12, 2024

Today, the House State Affairs Committee advanced legislation that would limit freedom of expression on state-funded campuses, universities and performance centers.

The ACLU of South Dakota opposes House Bill 1178, legislation that would prohibit the hosting of programs with “obscene live conduct” on institutions controlled by the Board of Regents. The government cannot limit expression just because any one person – or even a majority of a community – is offended by its content. In the context of art and entertainment, this means tolerating some works that others might find offensive, insulting or outrageous.

The following statement can be attributed to Samantha Chapman, ACLU of South Dakota advocacy manager:

“Who decides what is considered obscene? It’s impossible to define obscene in a way that isn’t hopelessly vague and subjective, and government officials cannot impose their personal moral values on others.

“House Bill 1178 is attempting to limit free expression, and even if you were to say that it’s strictly prohibiting obscene content on Board of Regents campuses, the actual impact of this legislation would chill free expression by placing a huge question mark over what kind of expression is allowed under this law. Drag performances have a long history of artistic and political significance. In a time where the rights of Two-Spirit and LGBTQ+ Americans are consistently challenged, the political value of drag performances as a form of protest has only increased.

“Everyone has the right to decide what art or entertainment programs they want – or do not want – to attend or watch. Once you allow the government to censor someone else, you cede to it the power to censor you or something you like.

“Freedom of expression for ourselves requires freedom of expression for others. This is at the very heart of our democracy.”

House Bill 1178 is not the only bill this year to address freedom of expression on state-funded college campuses. House Bill 1113, legislation that would have prohibited the hosting of “lewd or lascivious” programs or events like drag shows on state-funded facilities on college campuses, was killed by the House State Affairs Committee last month. Senate Bill 184, legislation that would define drag performances as harmful to minors and make it a crime, will be heard in the Senate Education Committee tomorrow morning.

About the ACLU of South Dakota

The American Civil Liberties Union of South Dakota is a non-partisan, nonprofit organization dedicated to the preservation and enhancement of civil liberties and civil rights. The ACLU of South Dakota is part of a three-state chapter that also includes North Dakota and Wyoming. The team in South Dakota is supported by staff in those states.

The ACLU believes freedoms of press, speech, assembly, and religion, and the rights to due process, equal protection and privacy, are fundamental to a free people.  In addition, the ACLU seeks to advance constitutional protections for groups traditionally denied their rights, including people of color, women, and the LGBTQ+ and Two Spirit communities. The ACLU of South Dakota carries out its work through selective litigation, lobbying at the state and local level, and through public education and awareness of what the Bill of Rights means for the people of South Dakota.