Mississippi Senate Passes 'Worst Religious Freedom Bill to Date,' And Gov. Phil Bryant Has Indicated He'll Sign It
The Mississippi Senate approved a sweeping anti-LGBT religious freedom bill late Wednesday. The bill heads back to the House for technical reasons but will soon be sent to the desk of Republican Gov. Phil Bryant, who has expressed support for it.
The Senate voted 31-17 to approve House Bill 1523, known as the "Protecting Freedom of Conscience from Government Discrimination Act," which would allow individuals, businesses, government employees, nonprofits and other entities to discriminate against not only LGBT people, but also anyone who's had extramarital sex, based on their sincerely held religious beliefs.
"This legislation moves Mississippi backward, undermining equality for its residents and jeopardizing its ability to attract and retain fair-minded businesses," Human Rights Campaign President Chad Griffin said in a statement prior to the bill's passage. "Governor Byrant should be paying close attention to the backlash against discrimination in Georgia, where Gov. Nathan Deal vetoed a terrible anti-LGBT bill, and in North Carolina, where fair-minded people and the broader business community are calling on state leaders to repudiate and repeal the discriminatory law passed last week. Mississippi's economy and its reputation hang in the balance."
Ben Needham, director of Project One America, an LGBT advocacy group in the Deep South, told BuzzFeed News that HB 1523 is "probably the worst religious freedom bill to date."
GOP Sen. Jenifer Branning, who introduced the bill, said it was drafted in response to the U.S. Supreme Court's decision in favor of same-sex marriage last June.
"This isn't a bill to allow any type of discrimination at all. As a matter of fact, it's quite the opposite," Branning said. "It's about protecting the religious freedom of those who don't feel they can with a clean conscience assist a same-sex couple."
Democratic Sen. Derrick Simmons, who's black, spoke against the bill, invoking Mississippi's long history of racial discrimination.
"Can we afford with Mississippi's dark past, can we afford in 2016, to pass anything that can be construed as discrimination?" Simmons said. "People were actually taken brutally from their homes and they were killed based upon what some considered to be, 'This is my religious belief' based on 'We don't want any mixing of the races.'"
Democratic Sen. John Hohrn, also black, cited three Bible verses that implore slaves to "obey their earthly masters."
"These are examples of how religion and how the Bible was used to justify slavery," Hohrn said. "So what I'm saying to you today is that religion isn't always right about things, isn't always just about things, because people use religion. ... We don't need to put another stain on Mississippi."
HB 1523 would bar the state from taking action against anyone who discriminates based on their belief that marriage should be between one man and one woman, that sexual relations should be reserved to such a union, or that "male" and "female" refer to someone's "immutable biological sex as objectively determined by anatomy and genetics at time of birth."
More from HRC on some of the implications:
Tax-payer funded faith-based organizations could: refuse to recognize the marriages of same-sex couples for provision of critical services including emergency shelter; deny children in need of loving homes placement with LGBT families including the child's own family member; and refuse to sell or rent a for-profit home to an LGBT person -- even if the organization receives government funding. As introduced, H.B. 1523 would also give foster families the freedom to subject an LGBTQ child to the dangerous practice of "conversion therapy," and subject a pregnant unwed girl to abuse, without fear of government intervention or license suspension. It would even allow individuals to refuse to carry out the terms of a state contract for the provision of counseling services to all eligible individuals, including veterans, based on the counselor's beliefs about LGBT people or single mothers.
Furthermore, schools, employers and service providers could implement sex-specific dress and grooming standards, as well as refuse transgender people access to the appropriate sex-segregated facilities, consistent with their gender identity -- all in conflict with the United States Department of Justice's enforcement of federal law. H.B. 1523 even legalizes Kim Davis-style discrimination by allowing government employees to abdicate their duties and refuse to license or solemnize marriages for LGBT people.