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House passes proposal prohibiting 'lewd' content on state property

Republican Rep. Chris Karr.
Lee Strubinger
Republican Rep. Chris Karr.

House lawmakers are advancing a bill that prohibits lewd and sexual depictions and events on state property.

The bill comes after Representative Chris Karr and other lawmakers raised questions a self-described ‘family-friendly’ drag show that was held at South Dakota State University last fall.

Karr says his bill does not ban drag shows, just anything that can be considered obscene by the Miller Test.

“We’re not just calling out particular events saying, ‘you can’t do this. You can’t do that,’” Karr said. “We’re saying, ‘Here’s the standard. Here’s the threshold. And it’s defined by the highest court in the land.’ And I think that makes a lot of sense.”

The bill prohibits obscene live conduct, which it describes as anything without “serious” literary, artistic, political or scientific value.

Further, it prevents programs that depict sexual activity, sexual anatomy, nudity, stripping or performances that can be deemed sexual.

The ACLU of South Dakota says the bill violates the first amendment.

“Who decides what is considered lewd and lascivious? Government officials cannot impose their personal moral values on others," said Samantha Chapman, ACLU SD advocacy manager. "Supreme Court Justice John Marshall Harlan once said that ‘one man’s vulgarity is another’s lyric.’ This sums up the impossibility of developing a definition of lewd and lascivious that isn’t hopelessly vague and subjective."

It passed the House 60 to 10 Wednesday and now heads to the Senate.

Lee Strubinger is SDPB’s Rapid City-based news and political reporter. A former reporter for Fort Lupton Press (CO) and Colorado Public Radio, Lee holds a master’s in public affairs reporting from the University of Illinois-Springfield.
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