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Religious Tolerance logo

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

Part 10: Mississippi
2014-FEB to MAR:
Democratic Senators goofed.
House Committee amends

Mississippi RFRA bill SB 2681.

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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

2014-FEB-26: Article by DeMiktric Biggs, on Mississippi Political Pulse (Cont'd)

Bigg's article noted that the Democratic Senators all voted in favor of the bill, in spite of its obvious discriminatory intent. He continued:

"One person demanded answers saying:

'We need new state leadership. This culture of complacency and sleepwalking on the job has gone from frustrating to damaging.'

Another went on to say:

'It pisses me off that no Democrats voted against this thing in the Senate. They didn’t even read the bill which speaks to an even bigger problem.'

Democratic Party Chairman Rickey Cole acknowledged that the Democratic senators never read the bill and provided a reason as to why the senators likely didn’t have time to read it:

'Legislators have no staff, except for receptionists. They rely upon lobbyists, their colleagues and the public to point out which bills matter. ... Democratic legislators are on the front lines defending public education, health care, public employees, worker rights, and a steady onslaught from the ALEC bill mill. This is one that get through while our outnumbered and under funded troops were busy, but there will be a fight in the House now that the alarm has sounded'." 5

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

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 human 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 noted the massive backlash against the similar Arizona bill and attempted 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 [sic] 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.

Senator 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 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. Ashton E. Pittman, " 'Right to Discriminate' remains in amended version of Mississippi's 'Religious Freedom Act," but business leaders applaud changes," Deep South Progressive, 2014-FEB-27, at: http://www.deepsouthprogressive.com/
  2. "Mississippi House committee advances 'religious freedom' bill," Gulflive/Mississippi Press, 2014-MAR-04, at: http://blog.gulflive.com/
  3. "Question: 'Who was Baal?'," Got Questions?, 2014, at: http://www.gotquestions.org/
  4. "Mississippi Senate Bill 2581," LegiScan, 2014-APR-03, at: http://legiscan.com/
  5. DeMiktric Biggs, "Democrats Caught Off Guard by SB 2681," Mississippi Political Pulse, 2014-FEB-26, at: http://mspoliticalpulse.com/

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Copyright © 2014 to 2016 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance.
Originally posted: 2014-MAR-07
Latest update: 2016-NOV-04
Author: B.A. Robinson

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