South Dakota Prohibits Ideological Discrimination in Higher Education

David Randall

South Dakota Governor Kristi Noem has just signed HB 1254, a state law that prohibits ideological discrimination in higher education. NAS welcomes the passage of this bill into law and congratulates South Dakota's governor and legislature for this welcome measure to protect South Dakotans against discrimination.

HB 1254 contains this crucial language:

No person may be employed or dismissed, or accorded preferential, adverse, or unequal treatment with respect to any application hiring, training, apprenticeship, tenure, promotion, upgrading, compensation, layoff, or any term or condition of employment, by reason of the person’s ... Ideological, political, or sectarian opinions or perspectives.

HB 1254 thus provides a bar against the ideological litmus tests, for support of "social justice," "diversity," "anti-racism," and similar euphemisms for radical ideology. Such litmus tests are rapidly becoming the norm in higher education, and every state has reason enough to pass such laws. South Dakota provides a model for all fifty states.

This legislation does several things right which should be highlighted. It includes the word "ideological" under prohibited discrimination—and that is very important. The current wave of requirements for support for "social justice" and other such concepts are not precisely "political"; laws from previous generations, which bar requirements to support a political party as a condition of employment, are not precisely suited to address this new illiberalism. South Dakota's law is suited for our times.

HB 1254 also specifies a whole range of protections—not just protection for hiring and firing, but protection for every aspect of a career in public higher education. This comprehensive protection is very important: social justice ideologues can also achieve a monopoly in public higher education by restricting career advancement. Political dissenters rarely enter a field where they are guaranteed never to be promoted.

We note that HB 1254 will not by itself guarantee liberty and fair treatment in South Dakota's higher education. South Dakota's radical establishment can continue to conduct ideological discrimination, and hope that no one will challenge them. South Dakotans must give HB 1254 flesh by active measures to ensure that South Dakota's higher education establishment lives up to the letter and the spirit of this law. This law is only a beginning for the campaign for liberty in South Dakota higher education.

But without this law, that campaign would not be possible. South Dakota's legislators and governor have given their citizens a legal foundation by which to protect their liberty. We are delighted they have done so, and we urge their peers nationwide to follow South Dakota's example.

In 2019, South Dakota also passed into law protections for intellectual diversity in higher education. South Dakota is rapidly assuming leadership in American higher education policy reform.

NAS congratulates Governor Noem for signing the bill into law—and we congratulate all state representatives and state senators who passed the bill. In particular, we congratulate HB 1254's co-sponsors: Rep. Sue Lucas-Peterson, Rep. Drew Dennert, Rep. Fred Deutsch, Rep. Lana Greenfield, Rep. Carl Perry, Rep. Bethany Soye, and Speaker Pro Tempore Jon Hansen in the State House of Representatives; and Sen. Al Novstrup and Sen. Larry Zikmund in the State Senate. They have made an important contribution to the long American quest for academic freedom.

David Randall is Director of Research at the National Association of Scholars.

Image: Jake DeGroot, Wikimedia CommonsCreative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license, cropped

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