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Washington D.C., Mar 22, 2021 / 03:00 pm (CNA).- The group Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF) is criticizing South Dakota’s governor for “gutting” a bill prohibiting transgender athletes from playing women’s sports.

After Gov. Kristi Noem (R) on Friday vetoed House Bill 1217, which clarified that only biological women could play women’s sports, she offered an amended version that wouldn’t apply to college sports, and which did not include legal remedies for girls alleging Title IX violations. Noem promised on Monday to uphold the integrity of girls sports.

However, Noem is being criticized by conservatives, including Alliance Defending Freedom, a legal group that defends religious freedom. ADF says that Noem’s version of the bill is “hollow.”

“While we appreciate that Gov. Noem has now taken an interest in coalitions aimed at protecting girls and women’s athletic opportunities, she is not only late to the game, but she is now trying to play coach,” ADF general counsel Kristin Waggoner stated on Monday.

“Gov. Noem has offered a hollow substitute for the urgent protections for women’s sports that the South Dakota Legislature sent to the governor’s desk in the form of H.B. 1217,” she said.

The South Dakota state legislature passed House Bill 1217 on March 10. The bill would prohibit athletes identifying as transgender from playing women’s sports.

On Friday, Gov. Noem rejected the bill using “style and form” veto power. She argued that its lawsuit remedy provision was overly broad, and that the state would invite retaliation from the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA).

Noem on Monday cited “legal scholars” who “think that South Dakota’s chances of winning a lawsuit against the NCAA are very low.” If the NCAA took punitive action against the state, “we could sue them,” Noem said, “but these respected legal scholars inform me that we would likely lose.” She recommended restricting the bill to only include elementary and secondary school athletics.

“The truth is, Gov. Noem has taken the legal teeth out of this bill and her hands are not tied by any NCAA policy, like she’s claimed,” Waggoner stated on Monday.

The bill passed by the legislature also allowed for girls to sue when a male athlete takes hormone therapy to participate in girls’ sports. Noem argued that provision was too broad, and would also allow for student-athletes to sue schools and other athletes for performance-enhancing drug violations.

“I believe girls should play girls’ sports based on their birth certificates,” Noem stated on Monday. “The physical differences are very real.” She added that she believes it is a Title IX violation for men to play women’s sports. Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972 prohibits sex discrimination in federally-funded education activities.

In response, ADF on Monday argued that Noem’s veto would hurt girls who have to compete against males identifying as transgender females.

“For years, courageous female athletes like Selina Soule and Chelsea Mitchell have been in the arena, fighting for a fair and level playing field for female athletes,” Waggoner stated. ADF is representing Soule and Mitchell in their case against Connecticut’s policy where student-athletes can play sports based on their gender identity and not biological sex.

“She has the ability and the opportunity to be a serious champion for girls and women, and we hope she does so by signing the legislation, which demonstrates real courage and seriousness in addressing the challenges facing a rising generation of young women,” Waggoner said.

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