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Religious Tolerance logo


Religious "freedom to discriminate" law in Mississippi:

Part 2 of three parts

2016: More reactions to Bill HB 1523.
Two lawsuits filed in federal court to
have the law declared unconstitutional.

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This topic is continued from the previous essay.

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Map of Mississippi More reactions to Bill HB 1523 becoming law:

  • Governments of Connecticut, District of Columbia, Minnesota, New York, Vermont, and Washington State, along with 21 cities from Honolulu, HI to New York City, NY reacted to the new law by issuing travel bans for government employees on non-essential publicly-funded travel to Mississippi. 1

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  • The Human Rights Campaign (HRC), the nation's largest LGBT civil rights group, stated:

    "National corporations and businesses have spoken out against the horrific measure, that would allow individuals, religious organizations and private associations to use religion to discriminate against LGBT Mississippians in some of the most important aspects of their lives, including at work, at schools, and in their communities. ..."

    "Some of the state’s largest employers, including Nissan Group of North America, Tyson Food Inc, MGM Resorts International, and Toyota publicly voiced their opposition to the appalling legislation, joining national corporations such as AT&T, IBM, Levi Strauss & Co, MassMutual, General Electric, and Hyatt Hotel Corporations.

    In a statement ...[on 2016-APR-04] ..., Jay C. Moon, President and CEO of the Mississippi Manufacturers Association (MMA) called for Governor Bryant to veto the measure saying:

    "It is clear that many of our members find that HB 1523 would violate their corporate policies expressly providing for an inclusive workplace environment that supports diversity. This is not a bill that the MMA supports and we hope that it will not find its way into law. ..." 2

    Chad Griffin, the HRC President, said:

    "Gov Phil Bryant adds his name to a list of disgraced Southern governors by signing this hateful and discriminatory bill into law. Governor Bryant refused to meet with LGBT people and even turned us away at the door of his office. He refused to listen to business leaders. He refused to listen to Mississippians. And now his state will suffer because of his ignorance and failure of leadership. Just as we're doing elsewhere, we will continue to rally fair-minded voters, businesses, and civil rights advocates to repeal." 2

  • Richard L. Conville, a professor at the University of Southern Mississippi and a guest columnist for The Clarion-Ledger newspaper, wrote:

    "... HB 1523 violates the First Amendment of the [federal] Constitution by establishing in law one particular interpretation of the Christian scriptures. It’s certainly not my understanding of the Christian Scriptures, based primarily on the teachings of Jesus in the Gospels ..."

    Conville referred to the Golden Rule as being violated by this law. The Bible quotes Jesus, as stating one of the two Great Commandments: to 'love your neighbor as yourself'."

  • Webmaster's comment: [bias alert]

    As HB 1523 was written, it would appear to allow:

    • Individual county court clerks to deny a marriage license to a same-sex couple.

    • Companies and non-profits to terminate the employment of a woman -- and perhaps even a man -- who became a parent while unmarried or was even known to be sexually active outside of marriage.

    • Pharmacies to refuse to sell contraceptives and emergency contraceptives to unmarried persons. That would help guarantee the very high abortion rate in Mississippi.

    • Adoption agencies to refuse to allow same-sex couples to adopt.

    • Medical and counseling professionals and agencies to refuse requests for help from lesbians, gays, transgender persons, transsexuals, and never-married singles who have been sexually active.

    I have read many articles in the media relating to the "religious freedom to hate and denigrate" laws being introduced to the federal congress and state legislatures. These laws have always seemed to me to violate the Ethics of Reciprocity -- commonly called the Golden Rule. Christianity and all of the other major world religions have versions of this, using different wording. But until reading Conville's article in The Clarion-Ledger, I have never seen the Golden Rule mentioned in connection with the "religious freedom to discriminate" laws.

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Two lawsuits are filed in U.S. District Court to have HB 1523 declared unconstitutional:

  • 2016-MAY-09: The American Civil Liberties Association (ACLU) filed a lawsuit seeking to overturn HB 1523. Plaintiffs are a same-sex couple, Nykolas Alford and Stephen Thomas of Meridian, MS. They had been engaged for nearly two years. Alford described HB 1523 as:

    "... a slap in the face. ... It makes us feel like second-class citizens. You should serve the entire public." 3

The couple issued a joint statement, saying:

    "When HB 1523 passed, it was heartbreaking because it takes away our chance to finally be treated equally. At a time when we’re supposed to be excited as a couple engaged to be married, this law permits discrimination against us simply because of who we are. This is not the Mississippi we’re proud to call home. We’re hopeful others will come to realize this, and not allow this harmful measure to become law." 3

Bill HB 1523 had actually been signed into law a month previously, but was not to take effect until JUL-01.

Their lawsuit states, in part:

    "On its face, HB 1523 violates the 14th Amendment by subjecting the lawful marriages of same-sex couples to different terms and conditions than those afforded to different-sex couples. By creating a separate and unequal set of laws applying only to the marriages of same-sex couples, HB 1523 imposes a disadvantage, a separate status, and so a stigma upon all married same-sex couples in Mississippi." 3

  • 2016-JUN-20: A second lawsuit originally opened by the Campaign for Southern Equality was reopened to challenge a provision in HB 1523. The law allows Mississippi civil servants to refuse to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples. On 2016-MAY-20, attorney Roberta Kaplan represented the Campaign before Judge Carlton Reeves of the U.S. District Court in Jackson MS. She argued that:

    "There can't be Jim Crow-type marriages in Mississippi. ... We don't want same-sex couples to be humiliated [when they go to their county office and apply for a marriage license] ... The statute that the state of Mississippi just enacted, HB 1523, clearly violates the fundamental principle of equality before the law. It authorizes, even encourages, discrimination against LGBT people in Mississippi, creating, only months after the Supreme Court clearly held it unconstitutional, another form of second-class citizenship for LGBT Mississippians. State officials cannot circumvent federal court injunctions and evade the Constitution by passing laws that seek to stigmatize LGBT people and segregate them from everyone else." 4

In support of the law, Special Assistant State Attorney General Justin Matheny argued that:

"The clerk's office is responsible for making sure everyone gets a license. Whether there are six people (employees) in the clerk's office or one person, it is incumbent on the clerk to make sure they don't violate the law. ... There is no allegation of a clerk failing on his duty to issue a marriage license to same-sex couple in the last year." 4

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This topic continues in the next essay.

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References used:

The following information sources were used to prepare and update the above essay. The hyperlinks are not necessarily still active today.

  1. "Religious Liberty Accommodations Act," Wikipedia, as on 2016-JUL-06, at: https://en.wikipedia.org/
  2. HRC staff, "Mississippi Governor Phil Bryant Signs Law Attacking LGBT People and Families," 2016-APR-05, at: http://www.hrc.org/
  3. "ACLU files lawsuit to declare HB 1523 unconstitutional," The Clarion-Ledger, 2016-MAY-09, http://www.clarionledger.com/
  4. Jimmie E. Gates, "Federal judge hears arguments on HB1523 challenge," The Clarion-Ledger, 2016-JUN-20, at: http://www.clarionledger.com/

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How you may have arrived here:

Home > Religious freedom > Freedom to Discriminate > here

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Copyright © 2016 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance.
First posted: 2016-JUL-05
Latest update: 2016-JUL-07
Author: B.A. Robinson

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