This photo taken on Dec. 27, 2013, shows the exterior of the South Dakota State Capitol in Pierre, S.D.
Chet Brokaw/AP

GOP lawmaker: Businesses should be able to refuse services to blacks


A South Dakota Republican lawmaker believes that businesses have the right to refuse services to African-American customers because the free-market will shut out discriminatory practices, according to an interview with a local newspaper. 

“If someone was a member of the Ku Klux Klan, and they were running a little bakery for instance,” State Sen. Phil Jensen cited as an example to the Rapid City Journal,  ”the majority of us would find it detestable that they refuse to serve blacks, and guess what? In a matter of weeks or so that business would shut down because no one is going to patronize them.”

In the state’s last legislative session, Jensen introduced a measure, Senate Bill 128, that would have protected employers from potential prosecution for turning away clients based on free speech. The measure proposes that businesses should reserve and enforce their rights to refuse services based on a customer’s sexual orientation.

“It’s a bill that protects the constitutional right to free association, the right to free speech and private property rights,” Jensen  told the Journal.

Jensen, a believer “in a free-market economy,” argued that businesses should not face legal repercussions for turning away certain customers – even because of their race – but that the market would play a role in shutting down discrimination. Although the bill was killed in committee after LGBT advocates and a Republican lawmaker called it ”a mean, nasty, hateful, vindictive bill,” Jensen remains a supporter.

“He calls it a bill that would have ensured the freedom of businesses to choose their clientele,” the Rapid City Journal writes.

“Whether that’s right or wrong, he says, can be fairly addressed by the free market, not the government,” wrote the newspaper.

The Rapid City Journal describes the state senator as the red state’s potentially “most conservative lawmaker.” His record indicates that he holds conservative ideals as he backs small government and supports very few regulations on gun use. 

He sponsored a bill that aimed to petition Congress to audit the Federal Reserve System, and sponsored another bill that asked the federal government “to enforce United States immigration laws and not grant amnesty to those who have entered the United States illegally.” Jensen also co-sponsored a bill last session that would have required drug testing for state welfare recipients. The bill was killed last month. 

Standing by his conservative convictions, Jensen said that his policy views have not changed much during the span of his legislative career. “Six years ago I ran as a conservative, a Reagan conservative,” he told the paper. “And I’m still a Reagan conservative.”

Similar religious freedom bills have been defeated in other state legislatures, including Mississippi, Arizona, Ohio, Indiana, Georgia, Kansas, Maine, Tennessee and Idaho.