The Mississippi legislature has passed legislation that would allow people to use their religion to justify discrimination. It seemed last month that the “religious liberty” bill had sufficiently stalled after the House voted to send it a study committee instead of passing it, with many members noting how it could be used to promote discrimination. However, both the House and Senate have approved a conference report on the bill, advancing it to Gov. Phil Bryant (R) with problematic language.
“Religious liberty” bills like the one vetoed in Arizona differ from other states’ “Religious Freedom Restoration Acts” (RFRAs) because they extend religious protections to businesses. Mississippi’s bill has this same problem, because state law already defines a “person” to include “all public and private corporations.” Thus, if Bryant were to sign Mississippi’s bill into law, it would grant all businesses in the state a license to discriminate based on religious grounds.
Mississippi does not currently have any state or local nondiscrimination protections for the LGBT community, but a business could use this legislation to justify discrimination against anybody not protected by federal law. Public accommodations that are supposed to provide equal access to all citizens could attempt to refuse service to divorcees, people who’ve had children outside of wedlock, or anyone else who might give rise to a religious objection. And if any town or city in Mississippi voted to extend protections based on sexual orientation or gender identity, businesses could claim that those protections violate their religious beliefs and insist on discriminating against LGBT people.
Though proponents of such “religious liberty” bills claim that they do not promote discrimination, the examples they cite to explain why such legislation is necessary entail photographers and bakers refusing service to same-sex couples. The Family Research Council’s Tony Perkins praised Mississippi for advancing this bill, specifically highlighting how it would protect “a wedding vendor, whose orthodox Christian faith will not allow her to affirm same-sex ‘marriage.’”
Bryant has not yet indicated whether he intends to sign the bill.