GOP Lawmaker Says Businesses Should be Able to Turn People Away Based on Skin Color, Then Tries to Backtrack

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South Dakota Lawmaker
In his apology, Rep. Michael Clark said he never meant to advocate for race-based discrimination. (Image courtesy of the Argus Leader)

A South Dakota lawmaker has apologized for comments suggesting businesses should be allowed to refuse service to customers based on the color of their skin.

GOP Rep. Michael Clark came under fire Monday for a Facebook post shared in response to the Supreme Court’s ruling in favor of a Colorado baker who refused to make a cake for a same-sex couple’s wedding, the Argus Leader reported. Clark lauded the decision, calling it a “win for freedom of speech and freedom of religion.”

When some Facebook users took issue with his post, however, Clark argued that a business should have the final say in who is or isn’t served.

” … He should have the opportunity to run his business the way he wants,” the lawmaker wrote. “If he wants to turn away people of color, then that(‘s) his choice.”

The comment quickly drew backlash, prompting Clark to delete on Tuesday.

He later penned an apology to a reporter for the Argus Leader, which published the story on his damning remarks. Though the damage was already done, Clark tried to walk back his statements, saying he’d “jumped in on it a little bit too fast.”

“I am apologizing for some of my Facebook comments,” he wrote in the apology. “I would never advocate discriminating against people based on their color or race.”

The lawmaker’s post prompted many to question his stance on the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which explicitly prohibits discrimination based on race, gender, religion or national origin.

“You can’t turn away someone from your business because of their race, it was illegal yesterday — and it’s illegal today,” Libby Skarin, policy director for the American Civil Liberties Union of South Dakota said.

“Family Guy” creator Seth MacFarlane even commented that refusing to bake a cake for a gay couple wasn’t a far cry from discriminating against Black people.

“…It’s a shorter walk than we think, particularly today, from ‘I won’t bake them a cake because they’re gay’ to ‘I won’t seat him here because he’s black,’” MacFarlane tweeted.

In an interview with the Leader, Clark attempted to clarify his comments, saying if a business owner feels strongly enough, he or she should be able to turn people away.

“People shouldn’t be able to use their minority status to bully a business,” he told the newspaper.

He added that it’s ultimately up to consumers to decide whether to patronize a business, noting that those who don’t have the support of the community will eventually go under.

“The vote of the dollar is very strong,” Clark said.

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