Governor Phil Bryant this afternoon signed the Mississippi Religious Freedom Restoration Act into law. The highly-controversial law will allow anyone to discriminate against anyone else in the name of religious liberty, and places the rights and desires of the faithful over those with no religious beliefs. In short, it is a license to discriminate and likely will land the state in court.
Bryant has now signed two anti-gay “religious freedom” bills into law: SB 2633 and SB 2681.
The Religious Freedom Restoration Act, SB 2681, had been sent back to committee after Arizona Governor Jan Brewer vetoed a similar bill. The Mississippi bill was believed dead but lawmakers quickly changed the bill’s language and bill number and rammed it through the legislature in less than 24 hours, allowing the governor to sign it just as the legislative session closed.
The bill contains this troubling text:
“Laws ‘neutral’ toward religion may burden religious exercise as surely as laws intended to interfere with religious exercise.”
“Government should not substantially burden religious exercise without compelling justification.”
The bill could allow a pharmacist to refuse to sell contraception to a particular person, and could allow a child to tell a fellow student perceived as being gay they are going to hell — and cite the law as their right to continuously bully and harass them. The bill could also be used by a corporation to refuse to pay for certain medical procedures via its health insurance program, like abortion or birth control, as in the Hobby Lobby case currently before the Supreme Court.
Standing by Governor Bryant’s side as the bill was signed was none other than the head of the certified anti-gay hate group Family Research Council, Tony Perkins. Perkins then invited Bryant on his radio show this afternoon.
Bryant proceeded to falsely state that his state’s Religious Freedom Restoration Act “mirrors” the federal government’s. It does not. Bryant’s characterization of his new law is false, faulty, and could easily lead to tremendous abuses.
Further, as Think Progress’ Zack Ford notes, the Mississippi Religious Freedom Restoration Act is different from other states’ RFRAs “because Mississippi law defines the word ‘person’ to include businesses, and thus it applies to corporations instead of just private citizens exercising their religious beliefs.”
And not only did Bryant sign the anti-gay Religious Freedom Restoration Act into law today, but last year he signed another so-called “religious freedom” law — for students.
On March 14, 2013, Bryant signed SB 2633, the Mississippi Student Religious Liberties Act into law. His press office claims the “measure protects students from being discriminated against in a public school for expressing their religious viewpoints or engaging in religious activities.”
In reality, of course, the bill will allow the bullying of any student perceived as LGBT, and will give the bully cover not just through the bible or other religious text, but now through the full force of the power of the state: the law.
“Students may express their beliefs about religion in homework, artwork, and other written and oral assignments free from discrimination based on the religious content of their submissions,” the bill’s text reads.
In short, students may announce to their classmates that, for example, LGBT people are going to hell, and the school may not discipline the child, as he can claim “religious freedom.” A student could also verbally attack any student or teacher as a “sinner” for any one of a number of issues, and claim “religious freedom.” It is a get out of jail free card for Mississippi students.
Bryant has opened the door for extreme religious based anti-gay hate to become legitimized, and has ensured his state’s regressive policies and attitudes for decades to come. Religious freedom should never be a yoke to oppress one’s fellow citizens.
— Sen. Derrick Simmons (@SenDTSimmons) April 1, 2014
Image of Gov. Bryant via Twitter
Editor’s note: A previous version of this article incorrectly indicated SB 2633, the Mississippi Student Religious Liberties Act, was signed this year. It was signed last year.
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