Metro Weekly

Mississippi governor signs “religious freedom” bill into law

Individuals, businesses, government workers, schools and hospitals would be free to discriminate in service

Mississippi Gov. Phil Bryant (Photo: U.S. Department of Agriculture, via Wikimedia).

Mississippi Gov. Phil Bryant (Photo: U.S. Department of Agriculture, via Wikimedia).

Move over, North Carolina. You’ve just been one-upped by Mississippi on the anti-LGBT front. 

On Tuesday, Mississippi Gov. Phil Bryant (R) signed into law a purported “religious freedom” bill that allows individuals, government workers, private businesses and religiously-affiliated organizations — including hospitals, schools and shelters — to deny goods or services to LGBT people, single mothers and others who do not conform to preferred sexual mores.

The bill, introduced by House Speaker Philip Gunn (R-Clinton), aims to protect three specific religious or moral beliefs: that marriage is the union of only one man and one woman; that gender is determined entirely by a person’s biological sex; and that sexual activity is best reserved for the institution of marriage. In practice, some of the specific situations addressed by the bill under the guise of protecting these beliefs would allow child placement agencies to refuse to remove an LGBT child from foster or adoptive parents who wished to subject them to conversion therapy; would allow a wedding-related business to refuse service to a same-sex couple; and would allow landlords to evict or refuse to rent to LGBT people or those who engage in extramarital relations. The bill would even allow doctors to refuse to perform gender confirmation surgery for transgender individuals.

Supporters of the bill have argued that it is necessary to defend the religious freedom of Christian conservatives whose beliefs concerning marriage, sexuality and morality are under attack. State Sen. Jennifer Branning (R-Philadelphia) defended the bill during an appearance on American Family Association radio host Bryan Fischer’s Focal Point last week, saying: “…All you have to do is read the news. You see what’s going on across our nation. People of faith in our nation are under attack.”

Similarly, Bryant took to Twitter to explain why he signed the bill into law, arguing: “The bill merely reinforces the rights which currently exist to the exercise of religious freedom as stated in the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. The bill does not limit any constitutionally protected rights or actions of any citizen of this state under federal or state laws. It does not attempt to challenge federal laws, even those which are in conflict with the Mississippi Constitution, as the Legislature recognizes the prominence of federal law in such limited circumstances. The legislation is designed in the most targeted manner possible to prevent government interference in the lives of the people from which all power to the state is derived.”

But LGBT advocates and allies lamented the passage of yet another measure targeting vulnerable citizens for discrimination. 

“This is a sad day for the state of Mississippi and for the thousands of Mississippians who can now be turned away from businesses, refused marriage licenses, or denied housing, essential services and needed care based on who they are,” Jennifer Riley-Collins, the executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Mississippi, said in a statement.

“This bill flies in the face of the basic American principles of fairness, justice and equality and will not protect anyone’s religious liberty,” Riley-Collins continued. “Far from protecting anyone from ‘government discrimination’ as the bill claims, it is an attack on the citizens of our state, and it will serve as the Magnolia State’s badge of shame.”

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

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