Posts Tagged As: Mississippi

Mississippi Governor Asks Judge To Allow State To Begin Enforcing Right-To-Discriminate Law

Jim Burroway

July 12th, 2016

Mississippi Gov. Phil Bryant (R)

Mississippi Gov. Phil Bryant (R)

Last night, Mississippi Gov. Phil Bryant filed a notice (PDF: 56KB/3 pages) saying that he will appeal a federal judge’s injunction preventing a state right-to-discriminate law from going into effect. He also filed a motion (PDF: 56KB/3 pages) with Federal District Judge Carlton Reeves asking the judge to stay his injunction so the law could be enforced.

Mississippi’s so-called “religious freedom” law, HB 1523, would allow individuals, religious organizations and businesses to deny services to LGBT people based on “sincerely held religious beliefs or moral convictions.” The law also would allow county clerks to selectively refuse to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples on those same grounds. Judge Reeves issued a very lengthy injunction (which actually read more like a final court ruling) in which the court found that Mississippi’s law “was the State’s attempt to put LGBT citizens back in their place” after the U.S. Supreme Court overturned bans against same-sex marriage nationwide last year in Obergefell v. Hodges.

In the memorandum accompanying both filings (PDF: 109KB/9 pages), Gov. Bryant argues that “the state is likely to succeed on appeal” due to arguments that were already made in earlier filings with Judge Reeves’s court: that “none of the plaintiffs have standing” and that HB 1523 is constitutional. Judge Reeves had already dealt extensively with those arguments in his injunction.

Gov. Bryant’s memorandum also asserts, “The State will suffer irreparable injury absent a stay because the Court’s injunction,” although he does not explain what that injury entails. He also asserts that “a stay pending appeal is in the public interest because the statutory policy of the Legislature ‘is in itself a declaration of the public interest’… If the Court agrees with the State that it is likely to prevail in its appeal, then a stay pending appeal is by definition in the public interest.”

Bryant also asserts that HB 1523 isn’t harmful to the plaintiffs:

The plaintiffs have not even alleged, let alone produced evidence, that they will suffer discrimination at the hands of public or private actors if HB 1523 is allowed to take effect. And the “offense” that they have taken from Mississippi’s decision to protect the conscientious scruples of those who oppose same-sex marriage is not a legally cognizable harm.

Ordinarily, the Mississippi Attorney General’s office would be expected to appeal the injunction, but Attorney General Jim Hood (D) announced that his office hasn’t decided whether to do so. His  statement however strongly suggested that he would not be inclined to appeal, saying that “the churchgoing public was duped into believing that HB1523 protected religious freedoms.”

Texas Leads 13-State Lawsuit Against Obama’s Transgender Bathroom Directive

Jim Burroway

July 7th, 2016


Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton

Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton is leading a coalition of thirteen states in a lawsuit filed against the Obama administration. The lawsuit seeks a permanent injunction against directives from the Justice Department and the Education Department which warn that Title IX funding may be withheld from school districts and colleges that discriminate against transgender students. The particular point of contention among conservatives is whether schools can be compelled to make restrooms and changing rooms available to transgender students according to their gender identity:

The coalition, led by Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton, has already filed suit against the Obama administration to seek a permanent block of the directive. Wednesday’s request, if approved, would affect not just these states but public schools across the country.

The states filed the case in U.S. District Court in the Northern District of Texas. Harrold Independent School District, just northwest of Wichita Falls, is the official plaintiff on behalf of Texas, but most of the attention in the Lone Star State has fallen on the Fort Worth Independent School District.

There, the superintendent incurred the wrath of Paxton, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick and other Republican leaders for setting local rules that would allow transgender students to use the bathroom of their choice.

Last week, Paxton issued a nonbinding opinion that the new guidelines for transgender students violate state law by relegating “parents to a subordinate status” in being informed about their children. He also said Fort Worth ISD Superintendent Kent Scribner illegally enforced the rules without the school board’s input.

Scribner countered that the school district’s guidelines for transgender students had been approved by the district five years ago, long before the current controversy.

The thirteen states joining the lawsuit are: Alabama, Arizona, Georgia, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maine, Mississippi, Oklahoma, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, Wisconsin, and West Virginia.

Mississippi AG: “The Churchgoing Public Was Duped” Into Supporting Anti-LGBT “Religious Freedom” Bill

Jim Burroway

July 2nd, 2016

Mississippi Attorney General Jim Hood

Mississippi Attorney General Jim Hood

Mississippi’s lawmakers got their collective heads handed to them on a plate late Thursday when Federal District judge Carlton Reeves issued his blistering injunction that prevented Mississippi’s so-called “Religious Freedom” right-to-discriminate law from taking effect. Injunctions are typically brief, and the three lawsuits that have been brought against the state of Mississippi are still due to have their day in court. But Reeves’s 60-page order read far more like a final ruling than an injunction, leaving little doubt about where these cases are headed.

Mississippi Attorney General Jim Hood, the state’s only Democrat to hold a state-wide elective office, now says he doesn’t know whether he will appeal the judge’s injunction. “I can’t pick my clients,” he wrote in a statement, “but I can speak for myself as a named defendant in this lawsuit. The fact is that the churchgoing public was duped into believing that HB1523 protected religious freedoms.”

While Hood said state attorneys will evaluate the judge’s decision to determine whether to appeal the case that “could cost the state hundreds of thousands of dollars.” But the rest of his statement made it pretty clear that he was not inclined to appeal:

I believe in the free exercise of religion and there will be a case in the future in which the U.S. Supreme Court will better define our religious rights.  This case, however, is not that vehicle.

You can read Hood’s full statement after the jump

Federal Judge: Mississippi’s Right-To-Discriminate Law Was Designed “To Put LGBT Citizens Back In Their Place”

Jim Burroway

July 1st, 2016

Mississippi’s so-called “religious freedom” law, HB 1523, was due to go into effect at midnight last night. It would have allowed individuals, religious organizations and businesses to deny services to LGBT people based on “sincerely held religious beliefs or moral convictions.” The law also would have allowed county clerks to selectively refuse to issue marriage licenses on those same grounds. Late Thursday night, just before the law was due to go into effect, Federal District judge Carlton Reeves found that because it violated the First Amendment’s Establishment Clause and the Fourteenth Amendment’s Equal Protection Clause, the plaintiffs had a very high likelihood of prevailing in their lawsuit. He then issued an injunction preventing the law from going into effect.

It should be remembered that this isn’t a final ruling on the lawsuit itself, which is actually the combination of three separate lawsuits challenging HB 1523. That lawsuit is still going to go forward, and the state of Mississippi can still mount a defense of HB 1523 and, in theory at least, prevail. But Judge Reeves’s 60-page opinion certainly reads more like a final ruling than an injunction, and it demonstrates the deep hole the state’s lawyers are in. I think this paragraph sums it all up very nicely:

In physics, every action has its equal and opposite reaction. In politics, every action has its predictable overreaction. Politicians reacted to the Hawaiian proceedings with DOMA and mini-DOMAs. Lawrence and Goodridge birthed the state constitutional amendments. And now Obergefell has led to HB 1523.

As Judge Reeves put it, that overreaction in HB 1523 was twofold. First, section 2 singled out only three specific religious beliefs being eligible for special legal protections:

(a) Marriage is or should be recognized as the union of one man and one woman;

(b) Sexual relations are properly reserved to such a marriage; and

(c) Male (man) or female (woman) refer to an individual’s immutable biological sex as objectively determined by anatomy and genetics at time of birth

And then it said that the state would not prosecute any “discrimination” cases is that discrimination was done on the basis of any of those three specific beliefs. Judge Reeves found that:

“Discrimination” is defined broadly. It covers consequences in the realm of taxation, employment, benefits, court proceedings, licenses, financial grants, and so on. In other words, the State of Mississippi will not tax you, penalize you, fire you, deny you a contract, withhold a diploma or license, modify a custody agreement, or retaliate against you, among many other enumerated things, for your § 2 beliefs.

After providing a detailed analysis of the plaintiff’s standing to sue and that state officials were appropriately named as defendants, and that it was proper to sue before the law went into effect, he then dismantled, one by one, each of the state’s arguments supporting HB 1523. Some of the language he uses is pretty strong. For example, the state actually claims that the law didn’t single out a group of people for special treatment because it didn’t actually mention LGBT people:

The State then claims that HB 1523 “is about the people of conscience who need the  protection of H.B. 1523, and does not ‘target’ Plaintiffs.” 31 Docket No. 30, at 3, in Barber. The argument is unsupported by the record. It is also inconceivable that a discriminatory law can stand merely because creative legislative drafting limited the number of times it mentioned the targeted group. The Court cannot imagine upholding a statute that favored men simply because the statute did not mention women.

…The title, text, and history of HB 1523 indicate that the bill was the State’s attempt to put LGBT citizens back in their place after Obergefell. The majority of Mississippians were granted special rights to not serve LGBT citizens, and were immunized from the consequences of their actions. LGBT Mississippians, in turn, were “put in a solitary class with respect to transactions and relations in both the private and governmental spheres” to symbolize their second-class status. … As in RomerWindsor, and Obergefell, this “status-based enactment” deprived LGBT citizens of equal treatment and equal dignity under the law.

Before turning to the bill’s violation of the religious establishment clause in the First Amendment, Judge Reeves embarked on a rather lengthy dissertation on how the First Amendment came into being because, what with Mississippi being Mississippi, people there tend to think “that the Establishment Clause is a technicality that lets atheists and members of minority religions thwart their majority (Christian) rule. The public may be surprised to know the true origins of the Establishment Clause,” which was, originally, “to protect Christians from other Christians,” with other faiths included in subsequent court decisions. Because some religious denominations blessed same-sex marriages, HB 1523 favored some denominations over others. More than that, it favored some specific religious doctrines over others:

In this case, moreover, it is difficult to see the compelling government interest in favoring three enumerated religious beliefs over others. “[T]he goal of basic ‘fairness’ is hardly furthered  by the Act’s discriminatory preference” for one set of beliefs. Edwards, 482 U.S. at 588. It is not within our tradition to respect one clerk’s religious objection to issuing a same-sex marriage license, but refuse another clerk’s religious objection to issuing a marriage license to a formerly-divorced person. The government is not in a position to referee the validity of Leviticus 18:22 (“Thou shalt not lie with mankind, as with womankind: it is abomination.”) versus Leviticus 21:14 (“A widow, or a divorced woman, or profane, or an harlot, these shall he not take.”)

Reeves was sixty pages into his opinion and he was just getting warmed up. Unfortunately, he was running out of time — the law was due to go into effect in just a few hours. And since this isn’t a final opinion for the case, he just left the remainder of his arguments for another time:

F. Other Considerations

The plaintiffs have made other First Amendment arguments and noted a preemption theory concerning 42 U.S.C. § 1983. In light of the substantive claims addressed above, and appreciating “the haste that is often necessary” in preliminary injunction proceedings, the Court declines to take up those other theories of relief at this time. Monumental Task Comm., Inc v. Foxx, — F. Supp. 3d —, 2016 WL 311822, at *3 (E.D. La. Jan. 26, 2016)

Reeves’s injunction orders “that the defendants; their officers, agents, servants, employees, and attorneys; and any other persons who are in active concert or participation with the defendants or their officers, agents, servants, employees, or attorneys; are hereby preliminarily enjoined from enacting or enforcing HB 1523.”

Federal Court Re-opens Marriage Equality Case Over Mississippi’s “Religious Freedom” Law

Jim Burroway

June 28th, 2016

In 2014, U.S. District Judge Carlton Reeves declared Mississippi’s state ban on marriage quality unconstitutional, and issued an injunction requiring the state’s county clerks to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples. The U.S. Supreme Court’s 2015 Obergefell decision striking marriage bans nationwide effectively closed the case in Mississippi, although that injunction remains in place. Yesterday, Judge Reeves agreed to re-open the case in response to Mississippi’s passage of a “religious freedom” law which, among other things, allows local clerks to refuse to issue licenses to same-sex couples. In his order issued yesterday, Judge Reeves writes:

Obergefell “is the law of the land and, consequently, the law of this circuit.” Mississippi’s elected officials may disagree with Obergefell, of course, and may express that disagreement as they see fit — by advocating for a constitutional amendment to overturn the decision, for example. But the marriage license issue will not be adjudicated anew after every legislative session. And the judiciary will remain vigilant whenever a named party to an injunction is accused of circumventing that injunction, directly or indirectly.

Judge Reeves’s order reopens the case “for the parties to confer about how to provide clerks with actual notice of the Permanent Injunction.”

Mississippi’s HB 1523 allows clarks to deny licenses to same-sex couples, and it allows businesses and individuals to refuse services to LGBT people. It also allows health care professionals to opt out of providing transition-related care to transgender individuals. The law is set to go into effect July 1. Two other lawsuits have  been filed to block the other portions of the law.

Updated: The House May Have Passed the LGBT Amendment, But They Defeated The Larger Bill

Jim Burroway

May 26th, 2016

The House rejected a appropriations bill for the Energy Department, Army Corps of Engineers, Interior Department’s Bureau of Reclamation and several other commissions. The huge $37.4 billion spending bill went down 112-305. Dems lined up against the measure, citing such poison pill provisions as amendment targeting the Iran nuclear deal and prohibiting the Obama administration from revoking Title IX funds previously appropriated for North Carolina and Mississippi over those states’ anti-trans bathroom bills. Rep. Sean Patrick Maloney (D-NY) was among those voting against the bill:

Ultimately, though, Maloney said he voted ‘no’ on the Energy-Water bill, which included his LGBT anti-discrimination amendment. He pointed to a subsequent amendment by Rep. Robert Pittenger, R-N.C.,   which prohibits the Obama administration from blocking North Carolina from receiving federal funds in retaliation to its transgender bathroom law. That measure was adopted 227-192.

“I wasn’t about to support the Pittenger amendment … having fought all week to get workplace protections,” Maloney said. “We won the vote last night. That’s an important victory. It shows there is a majority in the House that supports work place protection.”

Update:  Politico adds this bit of inside baseball:

Some GOP lawmakers were furious over Rep. Rick Allen’s (R-Ga.) comments on the LGBT issue at a GOP Conference meeting prior to the vote.

Allen read a passage from the Bible and questioned whether members would violate their religious principles if they supported the bill.

But moderate Republicans were stunned by Allen’s remarks, and some walked out of the meeting in protest, according to GOP lawmakers.

“A good number of members were furious,” said one Republican, who spoke only on the condition of anonymity. “There was some Scripture that was read and the like … Nothing good was going to happen to those that supported [the LGBT provision.] A good number of members were furious.”

An amendment offered by Rep. Joe Pitts (R-PA) added a line saying that Maloney’s provision, which restored Obama’s Executive Order requiring federal contractors to provide anti-discrimination protections based on sexual orientation and gender identity, would not conflict with “the First Amendment, the Fourteenth Amendment, and Article I of the Constitution.” The hope was that this caveat would reassure more conservative members of the caucus. But this morning, those conservatives informed leadership that they would not support the appropriations bill with Maloney’s amendment attached. Those conservatives said that GOP leadership never should have allowed Maloney’s amendment to be vote on in the first place. Meanwhile, Democrats also abandoned the bill over the Title IX amendment and other provisions targeting climate change science and withholding federal funds from “sanctuary cities.”

Two Americas Watch

Jim Burroway

January 17th, 2015

A tweet from HRC’s Chad Griffin:

Fifth Circuit looks promising

Timothy Kincaid

January 9th, 2015

Today the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals is hearing argument on three marriage equality cases, separately, one from each of Louisiana, Texas, and Mississippi. First in line was Robicheaux vs Caldwell, the case from Louisiana.

The Fifth Circuit panel consists of two Reagan appointees (Jerry Smith and Patrick Higginbotham) and an Obama appointee (James Graves). It was known, going in, that Smith was not sympathetic with the notion that gay people hold the same constitutional rights as heterosexuals and that Graves favored equality. The wild card was Higginbotham.

We cannot, of course, know the outcome until it is determined and announced. However observers are reporting good news from the Louisiana hearing. Higginbotham joined Graves in expressing skepticism towards the arguments presented by the state and those who were there are predicting victory.

UPDATE: the oral arguments have been made available here

No Christmas nuptials for Mississippi

Timothy Kincaid

December 4th, 2014

Alas, before the stay issued by Judge Carlton Reeves expired on his ruling overturning Mississippi’s ban on same-sex marriage, the Tenth Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals extended the stay. So there will be no same-sex marriages in that state this year.

However, the wait is not interminable. The Tenth Fifth Circuit is scheduled on January 9th to hear oral arguments on similar rulings from Texas (favorable) and Louisiana (unfavorable). Assuming it makes its determination shortly thereafter, it is likely that this ruling will also apply in short order to Mississippi.

Federal judge tosses Mississippi’s anti-gay marriage ban

Timothy Kincaid

November 27th, 2014

marriage 2014

Dark Purple – marriage equality states
Light Purple – marriage equality ruling but only some localities are granting marriage licenses
Red – federal judges have ruled for equality but the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals overruled
Pink – favorable rulings are stayed for appeal
Baby-puke – unfavorable ruling on appeal

Same-sex couples in Mississippi have something to be thankful for this year; by Christmas they might be married. (Geidner)

A federal judge in Mississippi on Tuesday night ruled that Mississippi’s ban on same-sex couples’ marriages is unconstitutional — but the decision has been put on hold for two weeks.

“Today’s decision may cause uneasiness and concern about the change it will bring,” U.S. District Court Judge Carlton Reeves wrote. “Mississippi continues to change in ways its people could not anticipate even 10 years ago. Allowing same-sex couples to marry, however, presents no harm to anyone. At the very least, it has the potential to support families and provide stability for children.”

(sorry folks, it looks like I forgot to click “publish” on this – so here it is late)

AFA is “being trampled” in Mississippi

Timothy Kincaid

April 28th, 2014

The American Family Association is no longer able to live out the dictates of their Christian faith and conscience. They are being persecuted terribly and it’s ever so sad.

You see, some people in the state are selling goods and services to gay people. Knowingly. And not even giving them a dirty look.

Oh the misery.

It all started when the state legislature passed a bill (much like the Arizona bill that was vetoed) which says that “Government should not substantially burden religious exercise without compelling justification”. And while those words are probably not something I’d disagree with, the unspoken intention of the bill was to block any local ordinances that prohibit discrimination against gay people.

And as there are no such provisions anywhere is Mississippi, it was just the Mississippi Legislature reconfirming to the world that it’s comprised of a bunch of back-woods, redneck, gay-hating yahoos.

Well, this seemed a bit mean to some businesses, so they decided to come up with a way of telling gay customers that they were welcome in their stores. A couple of gay business owners and a “straight, white, Southern, Christian conservative male” Republican up the street designed a sticker that a shopkeeper could put in their window.

Which is all sorts of bullying and silencing of the rights of those who don’t want gay people to be able to buy goods and services. Or something. (AFA’s OneNewsNow)

Buddy Smith, executive vice president of Tupelo-based American Family Association, offers his take on the sticker campaign.

“It’s not really a buying campaign, but it’s a bully campaign,” he says, “and it’s being carried out by radical homosexual activists who intend to trample the freedom of Christians to live according to the dictates of scripture.

“They don’t want to hear that homosexuality is sinful behavior – and they wish to silence Christians and the church who dare to believe this truth.”

And what is one to do about those who break the Scriptural dictates prohibiting selling stuff to gay people?

Smith offers a word of caution for those who do business with facilities posting the decal supporting homosexual activism. “If you do that, you are agreeing with these businesses that Christians no longer have the freedom to live out the dictates of their Christian faith and conscience,” he tells OneNewsNow.

Kidding aside, this is hysterical in pretty much every meaning of the word. Please please, AFA, keep saying stuff like this.

Why I’m not panicked about the Mississippi bill

Timothy Kincaid

April 2nd, 2014

The Mississippi Senate and House have passed a bill (similar to that vetoed by Arizona Governor Brewer) which would formally legalize discrimination in that state, so long as such discrimination 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”.

It is a rather nasty piece of work which was formulated out of animus and is intended as a tool to deny rights to gay people.

But I’m not particularly worried about this bill.

Instances of actual anti-gay discrimination in the provision of services are infrequent. Even in the Deep South, there is little advantage to be had by turning down business from gay customers.

There’s just not much to be gained by alienating customers. Maybe a few moments of internet celebrity and the promise of a few new strident anti-gay sales, but “we don’t sell to those type of people” is not a very effective marketing plan. Most folks would rather stay out of your war – and out of your store – irrespective of their own beliefs.

And the evidence of that can be seen in that despite the anti-gay industry’s ever-vigilant search for fresh martyrs to parade, only a handful of Jesus-lovin’, sin-hatin’, concerned Christians have been found nationwide who have been willing to destroy their livelihood for the cause. Elane Photography, a couple of bakers, and a florist or two. Oh, and some cookie baker and a venue in Texas. Most of whom were not even required by ordinance or law to offer service to gay people.

But even if such discrimination were ubiquitous in Mississippi, this bill changes nothing. There is no corner of the state in which gay people are protected from discrimination. No bakers or florists or bed and breakfast inn masters are limited from turning away gay people at the door. There is not even one city ordinance in the state that requires equal service to gay customers.

As for the anti-gay efforts, this bill gains them nothing. It’s merely a public statement of derision towards a segment of their population.

However, it does have the potential to facilitate some outcomes that hardcore conservative Christians do not predict, and will not like. These bills almost always do.

Those, such as the Mississippi legislators, who seek laws that advantage conservative Christians suffer from too much belief in their own rhetoric. They are part of a worldview that has some misperceptions:

1. They are the only real people of faith.

It baffles me how this perception manages to keep hold when all evidence is to the contrary. But in the minds of these people, if you are a person of faith then you obviously believe the Levitical commands in precisely the same way they do.

They don’t consider that them there liberal sin-compromisin’ feel-goody pseudo-Christians will get the exact same legal rights under these sort of laws as True, Bible-believing, born-again People of God.

2. They are a persecuted people.

It may be hard to take seriously the notion that the state and local officials in Mississippi are in some way out to get the Christians. But when you believe that Satan is using the principalities and powers of the world to attack the Body of Christ, you can hear about some preacher who was arrested in Sweden and fear that Sheriff Billy Bob Honeycutt is about to do the same.

It hasn’t occurred to these legislators that real persecuted people – the religious minorities in Mississippi – may now actually have a tool by which to empower their freedom.

3. God’s hand is in whatever they do

There is a form of circular reinforcement that can result in astonishing stupidity. Much of what you hear from Pat Robertson is based in this thinking. It goes like this:

I am a child of God. I seek God’s will in my life in what I do and say. I believe that God speaks to my heart and inspires me to move in the direction that he knows is best in my life. Therefore, when I strongly believe something, I know that it is inspired by God. And as God never lies or works against that which is good, whatever batpoop idiotic nonsense that I am spouting at any given moment is backed up by the creator of the universe.

Because they all agree that God wants them to stand up against the homosexual agenda, and because the homosexaul lobby opposes this bill, then it must be inspired by God and a wonderful victory for His Kingdom.

And so they’ve passed a phenomenally stupid bill that is likely to bite them in the ass. In fact, it’s likely to have the exact opposite impact of what they expect.

It certainly wouldn’t be the first time. Remember in the 80’s when there was a big ruckus because some Bible Clubs had been restricted at some school or other? Well Congress rushed to fix that with the Equal Access Act, which required that if a school allowed any extra-curricular organizations then it had to allow all such groups.

And for about ten minutes there were Bible Clubs on a handful of campuses (until students realized that the idea of a Bible Club was much sexier than actually trying to read the book). But the largest impact of this law is the opposite of its intention; mostly, this law is what requires schools to allow gay-straight-alliances on campus. In court case after court case, anti-gay school boards have been told that if they want to ban support groups for LGBT kids, they also had to ban the chess club and the Fellowship of Christian Athletes.

It is, of course, far too early to know what kind of repercussions will result from the Mississippi Freedom Restoration Act. But here are a few scenarios that the language of the law would appear to cover:

Should there be a Muslim woman who is a state employee, local concerns or sensibilities will now have no say in her choice of clothing, provided that she has a sincerely held religious belief. Burka, baby!

Rastafarians, Native Americans, and others whose religious beliefs incorporate use of mind altering substances now have a much higher bar by which they are to be denied access to the implements of their worship. Now drug enforcement officers must prove “a government interest of the highest magnitude that cannot otherwise be achieved without burdening the exercise of religion”. I predict a large conversion to such faiths.

The Knights of the Ku Klux Klan are a religious organization. They have lost favor in the nation, even in the South, as social and civil disapproval has taken the forefront. And the federal Civil Rights Laws disallow discrimination against people on the basis of race, so this law will not override that protection. But it would protect the state employee who wants to wear KKK insignia to work. And it will cause all sorts of havoc.

And, most ironically, they were blind to the most obvious scenario, the one jumping up and down in front of them waving its arms:

“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.

One of the phenomena that we have seen recently is the deeply-held religious conviction on the part of some people of faith that denying gay people equality is an injustice and an immoral attack on a child of God. Some are rather visible, such as Episcopalians or UCC or Lutherans, in which the denomination is on their side. But some, such as a recent spate of Methodists, are willing to defy their church and risk defrocking in order to fulfill their fealty to God.

Even if no denomination states that it is sinful to discriminate against gay people, some clergy have made this case. And surely there is among the 82 counties in Mississippi at least one clerk who compelled by his faith to offer marriage certification to same-sex couples just as he would to opposite-sex couples. And this law says that state action cannot burden his religious act of faith.

Mississippi just opened for themselves a colossal can of worms. Funny how animus, arrogance, and self-righteousness can work that way.

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.

Click here to read the full text of the Mississippi bill.

Ole Miss’ home city passes ‘dignity and worth’ resolution

Timothy Kincaid

March 11th, 2014

Too often, the news coming from the South tends to have a shared and consistent theme, and not a pleasant one. It can leave the impression that there are no places or people in the South that do not approach gay issues without hostility and animus.

That, of course, isn’t true. Polls show that many Southerners are supporters and allies. It’s just that they are less visible.

So it is important to note some of the positive things that can provide some balance and perspective. And one such thing is the action taken last week by the city counsel of Oxford, Mississippi, home of the University of Mississippi (“Ole Miss”).

From the Oxford, Mississippi, city press release

Tonight Oxford, Mississippi unanimously passed a resolution recognizing the dignity and worth of all city residents – including those who are lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT). Oxford joins two other Mississippi cities – Starkville and Hattiesburg – which both passed similar resolutions earlier this year.

Also important to remember is that these things don’t happen on their own. And, in this instance, we have some back-story on how the resolution came to be.

One of BTB’s readers and regular commenters, TampaZeke, is an Oxford native and has family that is connected to the city government. With their support, and that of an alumni sports group, they reached out to the city to request the resolution and to point out that it would be good for the city’s image to take this stance.

The resolution doesn’t have much in the way of teeth. It’s basically a confirmation that gay people are part of the city and valued.

But often that is the most important step. Once you recognize the value and worth of a person, it’s much harder to justify discrimination or tolerate bigotry.

So thank you, TampaZeke, for your work on this project. And thank you, Oxford, for reminding us that even in the heart of the Deep South, there are those who recognize the dignity and worth of our community.

Is Arizona a Turning Point?

Jim Burroway

February 27th, 2014

It would appear that the outcry over Arizona’s license-to-discriminate bill that was finally vetoed by Gov. Jan Brewer last night may have reached something of a high water mark. Major companies, business group, professional organizations, and major league sports all came out with strong statements denouncing the bill in the moments leading up to Brewer’s veto. Typical was this one from Yelp’s CEO Jeremy Stoppelman:

SB 1062 would serve to create an environment where consumers would not know how they would be treated – or whether they would even be served – when they patronize a business. This bill goes against the rule that every great business subscribes to, which is that the customer is always right. It will not only be bad for customers, but also bad for local business in the state. I also believe that it would be in consumers’ interests to be made aware of businesses within the state that did engage in discriminatory behavior. Since early 2010, Yelp has hired over 650 employees in Arizona. Over the next few years, we hope to hire hundreds more. It would be unconscionable for the state to encourage discrimination against any of them.

Arizona joins three other states in putting an end to their license-to-discriminate bills in just the past twenty-four hours:

  • Sponsors of Ohio’s license-to-discriminate bill withdrew their support yesterday. Moments later, the chairman of the House Judiciary Committee announced that the bill was dead.
  •  The Mississippi House of Representatives Civil Subcommittee late yesterday voted to strike almost all of the provisions of their license-to-discriminate bill, leaving only a provision adding “In God We Trust” to the state seal. This move came after the state Senate gave its unanimous approval in January.
  • Florida Gov. Rick Scott announced yesterday that he will veto a proposed license-to-discriminate bill if it reaches his desk. Earlier that day, he had refused to address the question during an interview on MSNBC.

Over the past several weeks, license-to-discriminate bills have been defeated or withdrawn in Colorado, Kansas, Maine, Tennessee, and Utah. But we’re not out of the woods yet. Similar bills are still working their way through Idaho, Missouri, South Dakota, and Georgia, where Atlanta-based Delta Airlines has announced its opposition. The Idaho bill was returned to a House committee last week, with the sponsor saying he wants to “find the right language.” In addition, there’s a push to put a similar measure on the ballot in Oregon in November.


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