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Mississippi Legislature Passes License-To-Discriminate Law

Jim Burroway

April 2nd, 2014

Both houses of the Mississippi legislature approved S.B. 2681 yesterday. The bill passed the GOP-controlled House in a 78-43 bipartisan vote, and the GOP-controlled Senate by a 38-14 bipartisan vote. The bill states that “State action or an action by any person based on state action shall not burden a person’s right to exercise of religion, even if the burden results from a rule of general applicability…” It also provides that “A person whose exercise of religion has been burdened or is likely to be burdened (emphasis mine) in violation of this section” can go to court for “injunctive relief, declaratory relief, compensatory damages, and the recovery of costs and reasonable attorney’s fees.”

The same law, designated as the “Mississippi Religious Freedom Restoration Act,” also adds the words “In God We Trust” to the state seal. The law now goes to Gov. Phil Bryant (R) for his signature. Bryant said on Monday that he plans to sign the bill into law. Mississippi’s anti-discrimination law currently does not offer any protections on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity, which means that even without this bill, discrimination against LGBT people is already perfectly legal in Mississippi.

Like the Arizona bill which was vetoed by Gov. Jan Brewer (R), the Mississippi bill doesn’t single out sexual orientation or gender identity as allowed grounds for discrimination, which leaves it open to employers and individuals claiming rights to discriminate on any basis — race, religion, gender, perceived national origin, etc., — as long as they can claim a religious reason for doing so. As with the Arizona legislation, atheists and agnostics will have no such specific license to discriminate. Similar bills are before the legislatures in Oklahoma and Missouri, and a bill is expected to be introduced in North Carolina when its legislative session begins in May. Similar bills in Georgia, Idaho, Kansas, Maine, and Ohio have been rejected.

In February, the Mississippi House amended the bill to remove the license-to-discriminate language, leaving only the sections modifying the state seal. The Senate, however, rejected that move and restored a version of the original language, which moved the bill to a conference committee which hammered out the final version.

The full text of the bill is reproduced below.

Senate Bill 2681
(As Passed the Senate)

AN ACT TO ENACT THE MISSISSIPPI RELIGIOUS FREEDOM RESTORATION ACT; TO PROVIDE THAT STATE ACTION OR AN ACTION BY ANY PERSON BASED ON STATE ACTION SHALL NOT BURDEN A PERSON’S RIGHT TO THE EXERCISE OF RELIGION; TO AMEND THE 1818 MISSISSIPPI LAWS, ACT OF JANUARY 19, 1818, PAGE 142, TO REVISE THE GREAT SEAL OF THE STATE OF MISSISSIPPI; TO PROVIDE THAT STATE AGENCIES SHALL CONTINUE TO USE STATIONERY AND OTHER SUPPLIES HAVING THE 1818 SEAL THEREON UNTIL SUPPLIES OF SUCH ITEMS ARE DEPLETED; AND FOR RELATED PURPOSES.

BE IT ENACTED BY THE LEGISLATURE OF THE STATE OF MISSISSIPPI:

SECTION 1. (1) This act shall be known and may be cited as the Mississippi Religious Freedom Restoration Act.

(2) As used in this act:

(a) “Burden” means any action that directly or indirectly constrains, inhibits, curtails or denies the exercise of religion by any person or compels any action contrary to a person’s exercise of religion. “Burden” includes, but is not limited to, withholding benefits, assessing criminal, civil or administrative penalties or exclusion from governmental programs or access to governmental facilities.

(b) “Compelling governmental interest” means a government interest of the highest magnitude that cannot otherwise be achieved without burdening the exercise of religion.

(c) “Exercise of religion” means the practice or observance of religion. “Exercise of religion” includes, but is not limited to, the ability to act or the refusal to act in a manner that is substantially motivated by one’s sincerely held religious belief, whether or not the exercise is compulsory or central to a larger system of religious belief.

(d) “State action” means the implementation or application of any law, including, but not limited to, state and local laws, ordinances, rules, regulations and policies, whether statutory or otherwise, or any other action by the state, a political subdivision of the state, an instrumentality of the state or political subdivision of the state, or a public official that is authorized by law in the state.

(3) (a) State action or an action by any person based on state action shall not burden a person’s right to exercise of religion, even if the burden results from a rule of general applicability, unless it is demonstrated that applying the burden to that person’s exercise of religion in that particular instance is both of the following:

(i) Essential to further a compelling governmental interest;
(ii) The least restrictive means of furthering that compelling governmental interest.

(b) A person whose exercise of religion has been burdened or is likely to be burdened in violation of this section may assert that violation or impending violation as a claim or defense in a judicial proceeding, regardless of whether the state or a political subdivision of the state is a party to the proceeding. The person asserting that claim or defense may obtain appropriate relief, including relief against the state or a political subdivision of the state. Appropriate relief includes, but is not limited to, injunctive relief, declaratory relief, compensatory damages, and the recovery of costs and reasonable attorney’s fees.

SECTION 2. The 1818 Mississippi Laws, Act of January 19, 1818, Page 142, is amended as follows:

Section 1. Be it enacted by the Senate and the House of Representatives of the State of Mississippi in General Assembly convened, That it shall be the duty of the Secretary of State to procure the seal of this state, the inscription of which shall be, “THE GREAT SEAL OF THE STATE OF MISSISSIPPI,” around the margin, and in the center an eagle, with the olive branch and quiver of arrows in his claws and below the eagle in the margin shall be the phrase “IN GOD WE TRUST.”

Section 2. And be it further enacted, That it shall be the duty of the clerk of each superior court within this state, to procure, at the county expense, a seal for the use of their respective counties, with the name of the county around the margin, and in the center an eagle.

SECTION 3. All state agencies shall continue to use stationery and other supplies having the great seal of 1818 thereon until such stationary and other supplies are depleted. The great seal of 1818 affixed on any public buildings or other property shall remain thereon until the replacement of the seal due to normal wear.

SECTION 4. This act shall take effect and be in force from and after July 1, 2014.

Comments

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Raybob
April 2nd, 2014 | LINK

Someone needs to start a Church of Homosexuality, complete with a whole raft of sincerely held beliefs.

Bose in St. Peter MN
April 2nd, 2014 | LINK

Tony Perkins is satisfied that Emily Christian can continue to turn away any LGBT business based on her beliefs.

The Mississippi Economic Council is satisfied that, if Kate Goodheart hires Emily Christian and requires employees to serve all customers, Emily can’t sue Kate for the right to “exercise her religion” by walking away from LGBT customers.

But, if Kate fires Emily for failing to serve customers, can Emily assert that unemployment benefits must be paid because the state can’t punish her for getting fired due to her religion?

FYoung
April 2nd, 2014 | LINK

This is really bad news. Laws like this are the next war, though it may be fought largely in the courts.

Talk about special rights.

Religious folk get the right to discriminate against anyone with impunity, but everybody is prohibited by the constitution and by anti-discrimination laws from discriminating against them.

Ironically, the other major victims of this type of law are going to be Muslims, but at least they get to discriminate against Christians too. On the other hand, anybody can discriminate against LGBTs, but they can’t discriminate against anyone unless they can claim a religious basis for it.

Richard Rush
April 2nd, 2014 | LINK

I suppose this new law is Mississippi’s way of thanking God for His abundant blessings. As the most religious state in the U.S., Mississippi has been blessed with the lowest education levels, plus the highest rates of poverty, obesity, diabetes, and infant mortality. Meanwhile, the least religious states of Vermont and New Hampshire, which happen to support same-sex marriage, have been cursed with prosperity.

ZRAinSWVA
April 2nd, 2014 | LINK

“Burden” means any action that directly or indirectly constrains, inhibits, curtails or denies the exercise of religion by any person (…)”

So…if someone stones a LBGT person, the LBGT person could be liable if they resisted being stoned, and the person throwing the stone could not be held accountable?

Where does this insanity end?

FYonug
April 2nd, 2014 | LINK

@Raybob “Someone needs to start a Church of Homosexuality, complete with a whole raft of sincerely held beliefs.”

LOL. Yes, I’ve been thinking the same thing.

The Metropolitan Community Church is not intolerant enough. It needs to be a church that has the credo that religious fundamentalists and Republicans are the Anti-Christ and God prohibits hiring or serving them. It could be called the Church for the Love of Christ and John.

Pliny
April 2nd, 2014 | LINK

Y’know, most of those “Sovereign Citizen” have a religous component to their craziness.

I wonder how much ads on the sites where they hang out cost…

Mark F.
April 2nd, 2014 | LINK

I’d have no problem with this bill if it didn’t require a religious reason to discriminate. As an atheist, I should have the same right to discriminate as a religious nut.

Richard Rush
April 2nd, 2014 | LINK

ZRAinSWVA,

“Where does this insanity end?”

If the person being stoned manages to get out of the way of almost all stone-throws, is s/he burdening the stone-thrower’s exercise of religion? And if so, can the stone-thrower sue to recover the cost of all the extra stones required to successfully complete the exercise? But the lawsuit would probably be unsuccessful because the stone-thrower should have known that proper stoning requires that the recipient be constrained . . . so at least some good news is likely to come out of all this.

Regan DuCasse
April 2nd, 2014 | LINK

Well thought out, intellectually sound ways of looking at this bill.

The problem is the LEVEL of religious belief here isn’t consistent.
These people become MORE religious and confront ONLY gay people with it.
But suddenly that same religious objections and restrictions from the same book are not employed against anyone else.
There would have to be equal discrimination and the same religious test against ANYONE entering such businesses or in any other social interaction.
Which ain’t gonna happen.
And Christians ALREADY act all put upon and persecuted, so any form of giving them a taste of their own medicine would backfire.
However much their intent is for only THEM to discriminate, but not to be discriminated against by anyone else for the same reason.
Their confidence in the state favoring Christians over anyone else says something about what religious freedom is supposed to mean.
As opposed to oppression BY the religious.

Paul Douglas
April 2nd, 2014 | LINK

What Amerika needs is freedom from religion.

Timothy Kincaid
April 2nd, 2014 | LINK

And Mississippi just legalized pot for Rastafarians. Sincerely held religious beliefs, ya know.

Nathaniel
April 2nd, 2014 | LINK

Someone please correct me if I’m wrong. I recently read that discrimination on the basis of race, religion and gender are forbidden by Federal mandate, which this law can’t countermand. That means that, at least with respect to discrimination, this law only opens the doors for discriminatory actions that are not banned at the federal level (like sexual orientation and gender identity). If true, this would also apply to other, otherwise illegal actions, like pot-smoking and murder. I know it is fun to poke holes in these laws, reveling them for being poorly-thought out, knee-jerk reactions to gays becoming people. But, as I always argue, we do ourselves no favors if we are dishonest about it.

Also: “‘Exercise of religion’ includes, but is not limited to, the ability to act or the refusal to act in a manner that is substantially motivated by one’s sincerely held religious belief, WHETHER OR NOT THE EXERCISE IS COMPULSORY OR CENTRAL TO A LARGER SYSTEM OF RELIGIOUS BELIEF.”
I’m not seeing how this excludes agnostics and atheists. I know many atheists who prefer to be considered a-religious (as well as some a-religious people who even eschew the designation atheist), but we all have systems of belief and moral codes that would fall under this definition (not that those are even necessary, by this definition). So, I don’t see how this specifically excludes atheists and agnostics.

Mike
April 2nd, 2014 | LINK

Ok, all of my fellow gay Atlantans who go to the Mississippi casinos need to call now and cancel their reservations.

Richard Rush
April 2nd, 2014 | LINK

If we are going to have laws granting special rights to people with sincerely held (religious?) beliefs, then we will need a way to prove a person’s sincerity in a courtroom. It would certainly be helpful if a blood test were developed for that. Or a blood test to confirm if a person is “saved (“accepted Jesus Christ as their personal savior”) would work, too. Maybe we will just have to rely on a polygraph test.

Timothy Kincaid
April 2nd, 2014 | LINK

Richard, we could just follow Biblical example and look for divine evidence.

You say that you have sincerely held religious beliefs? Okay, then prove it by defying the laws of nature.

http://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Judges+6%3A36-40&version=NKJV

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