HB 1523, “Religious Liberty Accommodation Act” officially signed into law, as governor indicated he would do last week
Allows state employees, corporations, individuals, healthcare providers, and nonprofit organizations to use religion as a justification for discrimination
Mississippi’s governor Phil Bryant has officially signed House Bill 1523 into law Tuesday, paving the way for public and private businesses to refuse service to same-sex and/or transgender couples based on the employers’ religious beliefs.
The bill passed last Wednesday in the Mississippi Senate 31-17 following up from an overwhelming 80-39 approval in the House, and is widely regarded by civil rights activists and LGBT advocates as the most explicitly grotesque anti-LGBT bill in recent memory, spelling out in specific detail the myriad of ways that a person or business can actively deny civil liberties based on their presumed sexual orientation.
The bill touts its officially stated intention as one that “merely reinforces the rights which currently exist to the exercise of religious freedom as stated in the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.”
Bryant officially confirmed via his twitter account with the following statement:
I have signed House Bill 1523. Full statement: pic.twitter.com/00DbgQADFt
— Phil Bryant (@PhilBryantMS) April 5, 2016
This is, of course, an extremely glossy way of describing a bill that would allow churches, religious charities and privately held businesses to decline services to peoples whose lifestyle violates their personal religious beliefs.
This is part of a growing and alarming trend of using “religious liberties” as a code for legalized discrimination. Similar legislation has passed in North Carolina, Nebraska, Minnesota, and Missouri over the past month.
As we previously noted when the bill passed in the Senate, the bill among other infringements of civil liberties stipulates the following:
- The sincerely held religious beliefs or moral convictions protected by this act are the belief or conviction that:
- (a) Marriage is or should be recognized as the union of one man and one woman;
(b) Sexual relations are properly reserved to such a marriage; and
(c) Male (man) or female (woman) refer to an individual’s immutable biological sex as objectively determined by anatomy and genetics at time of birth.
- Religious organizations can decline to solemnize any marriage or provide any services related to recognizing that marriage.
- Religious organizations can refuse to hire, fire, and discipline employees for violating the organization’s religious beliefs.
- Religious organizations can choose not to sell, rent, or otherwise provide shelter.
- Religious organizations that provide foster or adoptive services can decline service without risking their state subsidies.
- Any foster or adoptive parent can impose their religious beliefs on their children.
- Any person can choose not to provide treatment, counseling, or surgery related to gender transition or same-sex parenting.
- Any person (including any business) can choose not to provide services for any marriage ceremony or occasion that involves recognizing a marriage, including:
- Disc-Jockey Services
- Wedding Planning
- Floral Arrangements
- Dress Making
- Cake or Pastry Artistry
- Assembly-Hall or Other Wedding-Venue Rentals
- Limousine or Other Car-Service Rentals
- Jewelry Sales And Services
- Any person can establish “sex-specific standards or policies concerning employee or student dress or grooming,” and can manage the access of restrooms and other sex-segregated facilities.
- Any state employee can openly express their beliefs without consequence.
- Any state employee can choose not to authorize or license legal marriages by recusing themselves from those duties.
Protect Thy Neighbor, a project of Americans United for Separation of Church and State, outlined the many hypothetical situations for how this discrimination could legally be permitted, among them an adoption agency refusing to place a child with a family if the parents lived together before they were married, a counselor refusing to help an LGBT teen who called a suicide hotline, a car rental agency refusing to rent a car to a same-sex couple for use on their honeymoon, and a private sector company firing a woman for wearing pants.
According to the bill’s primary author, Senator Jenifer Branning, “This isn’t a bill to allow any type of discrimination at all. As a matter of fact, it’s quite the opposite. It’s about protecting the religious freedom of those who don’t feel they can with a clean conscience assist a same-sex couple.”
In response, the American Civil Liberties Union released the following statement:
“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. This bill flies in the face of the basic American principles of fairness, justice and equality and will not protect anyone’s religious liberty. 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.”
It wouldn’t hurt to also win some GOP-held state legislatures this November, too.