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Religious Tolerance logo

Religious "freedom to discriminate" bill in Mississippi:

Part 1 of three parts

2016: Bill HB 1523 was introduced,
passed in the House and Senate, &
signed into law by the Governor.
A negative reaction to the bill.

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As you undoubtedly know, on this web site, the "LGBT" refers to the
Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and Transsexual community.

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Map of Mississippi 2016-FEB & APR: House Bill HB 1523 was introduced and passed by the Mississippi Legislature:

What is probably the most inclusive anti-LGBT and anti-sex bill in recent U.S. history was introduced into the Mississippi House. It was titled the: "Protecting Freedom of Conscience from Government Discrimination Act." It has similarities to the federal First Amendment Defense Act that was introduced by Republicans into Congress during 2015. It is also similar to Georgia bill HB 757, which is also called the First Amendment Defense Act (FADA).

There are dozens of similar anti-LGBT bills currently being considered by various state legislatures. They have been introduced and promoted as "religious freedom" bills. They claim to be similar to the federal Religious Freedom Protection Act. But instead of guaranteeing the freedom of religious belief, the Mississippi bill would protect the freedom of individuals, religious organizations, non-profit agencies, for-profit companies, and some state employees to engage in religiously-motivated actions to discriminate with impunity against people on the basis of the latter's sexual orientation, gender identity, or sexual behavior.

This flood of bills at the state level seems to have been a response by Republicans in various states to the U.S. Supreme Court's 2015-JUN ruling in the case Obergefell v. Hodges. This decision legalized same-sex marriage in the District of Columbia, all 50 states, and in 4 out of 5 territories. American Samoa is the only exception. People in that territory are considered American residents, and not American citizens. Thus rulings by the U.S. Supreme Court do not necessarily apply there. 1

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On FEB-08, bill HB 1523 was referred to the House Judiciary Committee, where it was passed. It was subsequently passed by the full House on FEB-19, and transferred to the Senate on FEB-24.

The bill was reviewed and amended by the Senate Judiciary Committee. It was presented by Sen. Jenifer Branning (R). He said that the bill would deal only with same-sex marriage:

"This is presenting a solution to the crossroads we find ourselves in today as a result of Obergefell v. Hodges. Ministers, florists, photographers, people along those lines — this bill would allow them to refuse to provide marriage-related business services without fear of government discrimination." 2

Sen. Hob Bryan, (D) said that the Senate is:

"... debating matters that don’t exist. There are no state laws prohibiting discrimination by private actors. There’s no state law right now that prohibits anybody concerned from putting up a sign (at their business) that says 'whites only.' It violates federal law, but not state law." 2

The bill was passed by the full Senate on MAR-30 by a vote of 32 in favor, 17 opposed, with 1 Senator absent or not voting. 3

The House then passed the amended version on APR-01 (April Fools Day) with a vote of 69 in favor, 44 opposed, and 7 absent or not voting. Sixty eight Republicans and one Democrat voted for the bill; four Republicans and 40 Democrats voted against the bill. 4

The Governor signed the bill into law on APR-05. 3 It was to take effect on JUL-01. 5 This was the third anti-LGBT state bill to be signed into law recently in the U.S. Previous bills were in in Kansas and North Carolina.

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2016-MAR-30: A video from WLBT-TV-3: - WLBT, Jackson, MS : 6

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Scope of HB 1523:

It protects a specific group of beliefs that are commonly expressed by religious conservatives:

  • Marriage must be limited to one woman and one man.

  • Sexual activity between two persons is restricted to married couples.

  • Gender is defined at birth by a newborn's anatomy and genetics. It is fixed during life. Transgeder persons and transsexuals who were identified as one gender at birth and who now identify as the opposite gender -- or rarely, of no gender -- are merely confused.

The bill allow religious organizations and their employees, for-profit companies and their employees, and state employees to freely refuse goods and services to anyone if it would conflict with their sincerely held "religious belief or moral conviction." 7

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One reaction to HB 1523:

The Human Rights Campaign (HRC) -- the largest national LGBT rights group, said that because of the breath of coverage of this law, it could result in discrimination well beyond the LGBT community. HRC stated:

"Under this new law, religion could be used by most any individual or organization to justify discrimination against LGBT people, single mothers, unwed couples and others.  Tax-payer funded faith-based organizations could: refuse to recognize the marriages of same-sex couples for provision of critical services including emergency shelter; deny children in need of loving homes placement with LGBT families including the child’s own family member; and refuse to sell or rent a for-profit home to an LGBT person -- even if the organization receives government funding. It would also give foster families the freedom to subject an LGBTQ child to the dangerous practice of 'conversion therapy,' and subject a pregnant unwed girl to abuse, without fear of government intervention or license suspension. It would even allow individuals to refuse to carry out the terms of a state contract for the provision of counseling services to all eligible individuals, including veterans, based on the counselor's beliefs about LGBT people or single mothers.

Furthermore, schools, employers, and service providers could refuse transgender people access to appropriate sex-segregated facilities consistent with their gender identity -- all in direct conflict with the U.S. Department of Justice’s enforcement of federal law. HB 1523 even legalizes Kim Davis-style discrimination by allowing government employees to abdicate their duties and refuse to license or solemnize marriages for LGBT people." 8 (Kim Davis is a county clerk in Kentucky who refused to issue marriage licenses to all same-sex couples and was temporarily jailed for contempt of court.)

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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 Accommodation Bill debated at the capitol," MSMewsNow, 2016-MAR-30, at:
  2. Kate Royals, "Senate passes 'religious freedom' bill," The Clarion-Ledger, 2016-APR-15, at:
  3. "MS HB1523," LegiScan, as on 2016-JUL-05, at:
  4. "Roll Call: Who Voted For and Against the Anti-LGBT House Bill 1523?," Jackson Free press, 2016-APR-02, at:
  5. "Religious Liberty Accommodations Act," Wikipedia, as on 2016-JUL-05, at:
  6. "Mississippi Lawmakers on Brink of Passing Georgia-Style Anti-LGBT 'Religious Freedom' Bill. GOP Governor Backs Hateful Anti-LGBT Bill as Senate Vote Looms," The New Civil Rights Movement, 2-16=MAR-30, at:
  7. "Protecting Freedom of Conscience from Government Discrimination Act: House Bill 1523; create," Mississippi Legislature, 2016, at:
  8. HRC staff, "Mississippi Governor Phil Bryant Signs Law Attacking LGBT People and Families," 2016-APR-05, at:

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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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