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Proposed "License to Discriminate" laws
to give businesses freedom to discriminate

Part 9:
Mississippi "Religious freedom bill SB 2681"
(a.k.a "License to Discriminate" and
"Turn Away the Gays" bill).

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The acronym LGBT refers to the Lesbian, Gay,
Bisexual and Transgender community

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This topic is continued from the previous essay

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2014-MAR-01: Mississippi's "Religious Freedom bill:"

On 2014-JAN-31, the Mississippi Senate debated and passed the first draft of their bill by a vote of 48 to 0. During debate, there was no mention that the bill would facilitate discriminate against individuals in the LGBT community and other groups. 1

This bill is very similar to the bill that was narrowly passed by the Arizona Legislature, where it was met with a firestorm of resistance. The bill was opposed by Arizona's LGBT community, sports groups, 83 corporations, religious and social liberals, civil rights groups, Chambers of Commerce, and tourism bureaus. It was vetoed by Arizona Governor Brewer on 2014-FEB-26.

According to Change.org:

"SB 2681, Mississippi Religious Freedom Restoration Act, would require that 'state action shall not burden a person’s right to the exercise of religion'  by compelling 'any action contrary to a person’s exercise of religion.' The bill defines 'exercise of religion' to mean 'the ability to act in a manner that is substantially motivated by one’s sincerely held religious belief, whether or not the exercise is compulsory or central to a larger system of religious belief.'

This means that a business could legally discriminate against LGBTQ people if it claims that such discrimination is motivated by their 'sincerely held religious belief.' This bill legitimizes discrimination and segregation in Mississippi state law." 2

In reality, the version of the bill passed by the Senate is even broader than the Arizona bill. The Mississippi bill would also allow government departments and offices to discriminate against its own employees.

Christian Action Commission is a conservative Christian advocacy group affiliated with the Mississippi Baptist Convention. Christian Action's director, Dr. Jimmy Porter, sent a letter to all members of the Mississippi Legislature urging them to pass bill SB 2681, the the Mississippi Religious Freedom Restoration Act.

Porter's letter to the legislators said in part:

"As you may well know, the MS Senate passed bill SB 2681 that included the Mississippi Religious Freedom Restoration Act (MS RFRA). This bill had unanimous support coming from the Senate.

This bill as it passed the Senate protects the religious freedom of Mississippians and business owners from discrimination and intolerance. The bill is now in jeopardy in the MS House of Representatives where pressure from the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) lobby, the Human Rights Campaign, the ACLU, AT&T, and the MS Economic Council are working to kill the bill or to remove parts of the bill that will provide equal religious protection. Removing these provisions would provide a loophole so that if the ACLU and other like minded organizations sue a business owner, that person could not use RFRA as a religious liberty defense. ..."

"The intent of this bill is to provide guidance to Mississippi courts to balance religious rights with the interests of others. In doing so, the bill provides protection for the rights of conscience for all people, whatever their religion. The bill is not about discrimination or hate, it is about religious freedom. 3

"Furthermore, there is no biblical basis that one person is any better than any other. ... In fact, the Bible states 'There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free man, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus' and that 'God is not one to show partiality' (Gal 3:28, Acts 10:34). Furthermore, the Federal Civil Rights Act of 1964, Title II, clearly prevents any discrimination based on race, color, religion or national origin in hotels, motels, restaurants, theaters, and all other public accommodations. Anyone who says this bill is about discrimination is not being honest, even deceptive, or they do not fully understand the intent of this bill. The days of denying the legality of a person's civil rights is over and should have never have happened in the first place." 3

Note that in his reference to the federal Civil Rights Act, he correctly implies that the Act does not prevent discrimination by "public accommodations" based on the sexual orientation or gender identity of their victims. Public accommodations are companies that provide goods and services to the general public. Thus, as far as the federal government is concerned, any public accommodation can discriminate against anyone in the LGBT community for any reason whatsoever.

Porter's quotations from the Bible are correct. However, they are not complete. He may be unaware of the many passages in the Bible that advocate discrimination against women, people of other tribes and religions, disabled persons, etc. Elsewhere on this web site are essays that describe passages in the Bible that discriminate against women and biblical passages that religious and social conservatives have interpreted as discriminating against lesbians, gays and bisexuals.

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2014-FEB-26: House committee amends bill with the goal of removing discrimination enabling passages:

Attorney Jennifer Riley-Collins, executive director of the Mississippi branch of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), commented on the bill as it was originally written and passed by the Senate:

"Under the original SB2681, not only could a business refuse service to someone on religious grounds, [but] government agencies could [also] refuse to hire or retain employees based on a department head’s religious belief." ... This bill allows a person to claim an exemption from [state and federal civil rights laws.]. ... We are worried that this bill is broader than the Arizona bill. The [Mississippi] bill would allow the government funding of discrimination by defining ‘burden’ to include withholding government benefits. ... As I watched this thing unfolding I came back to my staff and said, 'Let’s tell our elected officials not to get duped.' This is not about religious freedom. 4

Dr. Jimmy Porter and Jennifer Riley-Collins seem to hold opposite views on the intent, wording, and impact of the bill. A public debate between the two would be a fascinating event to watch.

The Mississippi House Civil Subcommittee reacted to the massive backlash against the similar Arizona bill by attempting to remove language from SB 2681 that would allow what:

"... the ACLU and other legal experts said invites widespread discrimination, especially against gay, lesbian and trans-gender people ... by both the private and government sectors." 4

The bill contains a section that adds the phrase "In God We Trust" to the state seal. There is speculation that Senate members had focused on this section and had paid little attention to the religious freedom/discrimination section of the same bill.

Sen. David Blount (D) said:

"I was not aware (nor was any other senator or interest group or citizen that I have talked to aware) of this intention or possible result when we voted on the bill on JAN-31 . ... I am opposed to discrimination of any kind, including discrimination based on sexual orientation. Obviously, I should have -- all of us should have -- been aware of this. I have already talked with House members about removing language relating to legalized discrimination in SB2681."

After the House Subcommittee made amendments to the Senate's version of the bill, the new version was said to be similar to the federal government's 1993 Religious Freedom Restoration Act which is limited:

"... to addressing actions by government -- not individuals or businesses." 4

The amended bill was passed to the House Judiciary Committee B for consideration.

Blake Wilson, president and CEO of the Mississippi Economic Council (MEC) -- which is the state's Chamber of Commerce -- indicated that the bill, as amended, is more acceptable to the Mississippi business community. He issued a statement saying:

"As the State Chamber of Commerce for a state that has proven its hospitable and business-friendly approach, MEC opposes efforts that would intentionally or unintentionally prevent Mississippi businesses from implementing and enforcing non-discrimination policies impacting their customers and employees.

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This topic is continued 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. Zack Ford, "Mississippi Scraps Discriminatory ‘Religious Freedom’ Provisions Following Backlash In Arizona," Think Progress, 2014-FEB-27, at: http://thinkprogress.org/
  2. Delta Omega Lambda, "Kill the discriminatory SB 2681, Mississippi Religious Freedom Restoration Act bill and prevent it from becoming law," Change.org, about 2014-FEB-27, at:
  3. "Mississippi Baptists working legislators to pass 'Turn the Gays Away' bill," Cottonmouth Blog, 2014-MAR-02, at: http://cottonmouthblog.blogspot.com/
  4. Ted Carter, "House subcommittee tosses discrimination elements from religious freedom bill," Mississippi Business Journal, 2014-FEB-26, at: http://msbusiness.com/

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Copyright © 2014 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance.
Originally posted: 2014-MAR-07
Latest update: 2014-APR-17
Author: B.A. Robinson

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