Tuesday, April 5, 2016

Mississippi Governor Phil Bryant Signs 'Religious Freedom' Bill Into Law

  • "This 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 Republican governor wrote in a statement posted to his Twitter account.
    The measure allows churches, religious charities and privately held businesses to decline services to people whose lifestyles violate their religious beliefs. Individual government employees may also opt out, although the measure says governments must still provide services.
    "This bill does not limit any constitutionally protected rights or actions of any citizen of this state under federal or state laws," Bryant said. "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." [Fox News]

  • The SBC Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission published an article April 1 titled “Will Mississippi Lead the Way?” The article, co-authored by ERLC research assistant Josh Wester and director of policy studies Andrew Walker, urged Gov. Phil Bryant to sign the “Protecting Freedom of Conscience from Government Discrimination Act” passed last week in the state legislature.
    The bill, introduced by House Speaker Philip Gunn, a Baptist layman who serves on the board of trustees at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, would allow business and government workers to deny services based on religious beliefs. Americans United for Separation of Church and State labeled it “dangerous” and some legal scholars say it is unconstitutional.
    The ERLC article called HB 1523 “an exemplary model for public policy.”
    “While state governments in New Mexico, Oregon and Colorado have recently weakened religious liberty in these states, the Mississippi legislature has courageously acted to preserve rights of conscience for all Mississippians,”  Wester and Walker wrote. “This bill strikes an important balance that recognizes the new realities created by the Supreme Court’s Obergefell decision — legalizing same-sex marriage nationwide — while offering reasonable accommodations for citizens whose sincerely held moral and religious beliefs remain opposed to such practices.”

NPR: Mississippi Gov. Phil Bryant has signed a controversial "religious freedom" bill into law.
The law, HB 1523, promises that the state government will not punish people who refuse to provide services to people because of a religious opposition to same-sex marriage, extramarital sex or transgender people.
Supporters say it protects the rights of people who are opposed to homosexuality but who now live in a country where same-sex marriage is a legal right.
Opponents say the bill amounts to a state sanction for open discrimination.

The law's language also suggests protections for those who deny services based on an opposition to premarital sex; but similarly, it was already legal in Mississippi to deny an unmarried couple housing because of a moral objection.
Paul Boger of Mississippi Public Broadcasting reports that Republican state Rep. Andy Gipson of Braxton, who introduced the bill, says the measure has been misrepresented.
"It specifically says that is a case where a person has a religious conviction, they can decline, but they must provide somebody in their office to provide that service," Gipson says.

CNN: The ACLU of Mississippi promptly responded, tweeting that Bryant "just made discrimination a part of state law."
"Welcome to Mississippi, the hospitality state that says you're okay only if you're straight and married!" read another tweet, incorporating the hashtag "#ShameOnPhil."