The Mississippi Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA), or SB 2681, is gaining traction, as a House subcommittee voted to advance the bill yesterday. Like the now-defunct bill in Arizona, SB 2681 would similarly provide business owners with a "license to discriminate" against patrons who are LGBT.
The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Mississippi's profile of RFRA states:
"In its original and amended form as reported, this bill could allow people to argue that their religious beliefs exempt them from complying with laws that prohibit discrimination on the basis of race, sex, religion, color, and national origin. . . Because there is no “substantial burden” requirement, religious exemption challenges could be made to any law, policy, regulation, government action, or decision that affects religious exercise—no matter how minor, incidental, or indirect the alleged burden."
While this bill cites religion as its motivation and justification, religious leaders in the state have spoken out, strongly condemning its discriminatory essence. Baptist pastors Revs. Stan Wilson, Bert Montgomery, and Rusty Edwards co-signed a letter with Methodist reverends Rob Hill and Bruce Case, addressed to state legislators. In it, they wrote:
As people of faith, we are ardent supporters of religious freedom for all Americans. We know that it is the religious freedom to worship as we choose that makes our country and our state great. Religious organizations have a long established First Amendment ability to operate according to their own beliefs and we as faith leaders hold that right as sacred and will do all in our power to preserve it.
However, we also know that there is a difference between sacred space and commercial space. When providing a service to the public, businesses cannot pick and choose whom to serve and whom to deny. This is basic discrimination and it has nothing to do with religious freedom.
This legislation will have immense and negative consequences on all communities, including religious communities. First, it sends the message that one’s particular religious interpretation can become the law of the land. Second, as religious leaders we know that families are harmed when legislation unfairly opens up members of our communities to discrimination. As a state, we know we can do better than that.
Local organizations are also working to protect Mississippi's LGBT residents from the proposed law. Campaign for Southern Equality has provided 4 simple ways for in-state residents, as well as those outside of the state, to take action against SB 2681 by making your voice heard before the House votes—this could happen any day between now and March 14.
According to LGBT Movement Advancement Project (MAP), Mississippi has several anti-LGBT laws and policies in place already, including ones against marriage and relationship recognition, joint adoption, stepparent adoption, and school safety.
In addition to Mississippi's RFRA, similar bills are on the table in Georgia, Idaho, Missouri, Ohio, Oregon, and South Dakota.