Metro Weekly

Mississippi “religious liberty” bill passes committee

Mississippi State Capitol Building (Photo: Allstarecho, via Wikimedia Commons).

Mississippi State Capitol Building (Photo: Allstarecho, via Wikimedia Commons).

Another day, another conservative legislature attempting to pass yet another bill targeting the LGBT community. It’s become par for the course in a post-Obergefell world.

The latest attack on the LGBT community comes out of Mississippi, where Magnolia State lawmakers on the House Judiciary committee approved by 14-3 margin the “Religious Liberty Accommodations Act.” What the act would do, if passed, is allow individuals, religious organizations and private associations to discriminate against LGBT individuals by citing religious objections to homosexuality, same-sex marriage, extramarital sex (where marriage is the union of one man and one woman) or transgenderism. 

The bill specifically cites the decision of Catholic Charities and other religious adoption and foster care agencies to close following the legalization of same-sex marriage in Massachusetts, Illinois and the District of Columbia as justification for its provisions, as well as the recent decision in Massachusetts where an all-girls Catholic school was found to have discriminated against a cafeteria worker on the basis of his sexual orientation.

“In a pluralistic society, in which people of good faith hold more than one view of marriage, it is possible for the government to recognize same-sex marriage without forcing persons with sincerely held religious beliefs or moral convictions to conform,” the bill reads.

In short order, the bill — like others of its ilk being considered by several other state legislatures this year —  condones discrimination against LGBT people in housing, employment, public accommodations, and in the provision of goods and services. The bill also provides protection from legal action for adoption and foster care agencies that wish to continue receiving taxpayer money to operate and carry out child placement while discriminating against same-sex couples. The bill would also allow foster families to subject LGBT children placed with them to conversion therapy.

Another provision in the bill would allow employers and school administrators to require that transgender employees or students use sex-segregated facilities and adhere to grooming standards as determined by their biological sex, rather than their gender identity. Still another clause allows state and local county employees, including clerks, deputy clerks, registers of deeds, judges, magistrates and justices of the peace to refuse to participate in the licensure or the performance of a same-sex marriage ceremony. And it could even allow counselors to refuse to provide counseling services to LGBT people or single mothers based on the counselor’s personal religious beliefs.

Taken as the sum of its parts, the “religious liberty” bill is essentially a super-RFRA, a conscience clause exemption measure, and a Kim Davis-style accommodation for government officials all rolled into one. Eleven other bills, mostly similar in scope to the parts that comprise this one, have also been introduced in the Magnolia State this year.

“Quite simply, this bill is not about religion; it is about discrimination,” Rob Hill, the Mississippi state director for the Human Rights Campaign and a former United Methodist pastor, said in a statement. “The reprehensible legislation advanced by House Judiciary B today will without a doubt have widespread, hurtful consequences not just for LGBT people and their families, but for the entire Magnolia State. Fair minded Mississippians have a duty to urge their elected officials to reject this shameful legislation and stop radical, discriminatory measures like H.B. 1523.”

The bill now heads to the full House for consideration. If passed by both chambers of the legislature, it is expected to earn support from Gov. Phil Bryant (R), who signed a similar measure guaranteeing religious liberty into law in 2014.

John Riley is the local news reporter for Metro Weekly. He can be reached at jriley@metroweekly.com

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