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Vaccine mandate opponents file lawsuit against Gov. Noem after protest permit denied
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Vaccine mandate opponents file lawsuit against Gov. Noem after protest permit denied

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Gov. Kristi Noem

Protesters against COVID-19 vaccine mandates in South Dakota filed a lawsuit Wednesday against Gov. Kristi Noem after the state denied their application to demonstrate on Capitol grounds during a special legislative session this month.

The group of protesters, who call themselves Blue State Refugees, said they planned to hold a demonstration next week to push the Legislature to take up a bill that would keep businesses from requiring vaccines as a condition of employment. But they were told by state employees that they could not hold the event on Capitol grounds because it was being decorated for a Christmas display.

The Institute for Free Speech, a conservative interest group that is representing the plaintiffs in their lawsuit, called that decision a “deprivation of speech and petition rights.”

“The Noem administration is restricting First Amendment rights and blaming it on Christmas. It doesn’t take two months to decorate, and it doesn’t require banning rallies across the entire capitol grounds,” Alan Gura, the organization's vice president for litigation, said in a statement.

The dispute touches on a rift within the state GOP over how much the government should step in to stop employers from requiring vaccines for their workers. Noem, who has carved out a national reputation for her hands-off approach to pandemic restrictions, has argued that it’s not her job to tell businesses how to handle the issue.

However, last week she issued an executive order to make it easy for state employees to obtain medical and religious exemptions if they should ever face a federal vaccine mandate. She said she was also talking to lawmakers about extending those protections to private employees.

The governor's office did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the lawsuit.


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