Mississippi Passes Sweeping Anti-LGBT Law

April 5th 2016

Alex Mierjeski

Mississippi has signed into law a sweeping piece of religious freedom legislation activists say lay out the harshest anti-LGBT provisions in the country.

On Tuesday, Mississippi Republican Governor Phil Bryant signed into law HB 1523, which allows individuals and businesses to refuse products and services to LGBT people on the grounds that it protects their religious beliefs.

In a statement, Gov. Bryant said that the law would protect the "sincerely held religious beliefs and moral convictions of individuals, organizations, and private associations."

Bryant Tweeted out the full statement:

HB 1523 faced multiple delays as it moved through the houses of congress last week, as state Democrats launched last ditch efforts to stall what they consider to be a blatantly discriminatory bill.

"This is the most hateful bill I have seen in my career in the legislature," Rep. Stephen Holland said. "You ought to be ashamed of yourself," he told colleagues, urging them to reverse their votes approving the bill, BuzzFeed reported. "You are doing nothing but discrimination."

Shortly after Bryant signed the bill, advocacy organizations began speaking out.

"This is a sad day for Mississippi," said ACLU Mississippi executive director Jennifer Riley Collins in a statement.

Speaking on conservative talk radio shortly after signing the bill, Bryant defended HB 1523, saying that it would stop the "government from interfering with people of faith who are exercising their religious beliefs ... in matters of marriage." It would not pave the way for discrimination, he said.

But activists say the bill allows individuals, some businesses, and religious organizations to openly discriminate against LGBT people.

The bill would:

  • Protect individuals, businesses, and religious organizations who refuse products or services to LGBT people based on "sincerely held religious beliefs of moral convictions" against trans people, same-sex marriage, and any sexual activity outside a heterosexual marriage.

You can peruse the full text of the bill here.

Religious freedom laws have a long and complicated history in the United States.

In the 1990s, two members of a Native American tribe in Oregon sued their employer after being fired because the drug peyote was found in their system. The men argued that they used the drug as a part of a religious ritual, and that they should be given unemployment compensation.

While the Supreme Court ruled in favor of the employer, President Bill Clinton would later sign the Federal Religious Freedom Restoration Act, which was introduced by Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-New York). Though the Supreme Court would eventually rule that the law could only apply at the federal level, states have used the Federal RFRA as the framework for their own laws.

Some civil rights activists have argued that though RFRA was originally designed to be a "shield" against discrimination, it is now being used as a "sword" used to discriminate against minorities.