I once had a conversation with a man (who will remain nameless) of the conservative ideological camp, wherein he tried to explain to me the purpose of Indiana’s Religious Freedom Restoration Act. “It’s about making sure men and women who are religious have the ability to freely exercise their religious beliefs free from discrimination,” he said. But while his words were merely a regurgitated, baseless talking point he had likely heard ad nauseum from people named Hannity, O’Reilly, Tantaros, and Doocy, there was something in his eyes that let me know he actually believed it.
Even though the topic of conversation was a piece of Indiana legislation that all but spelled out it’s intention as a means to allow people of the Christian faith to freely discriminate against LGBT Americans while using their faith as justification, this man, an educator working at the collegiate level, genuinely believed Indiana’s Religious Freedom Restoration Act had altruistic intentions.
I was reminded of that conversation earlier this week when I read about a bill in Mississippi that appears unstoppable. House Bill 1523 spells out, in explicit detail, all the ways in which the people of Mississippi can freely discriminate against any Mississippian who is not heterosexual. Because this is a proposed law (a wildly popular one, at that), if it makes its way to Mississippi Governor Phil Bryant (R) and he signs it, then the government of the state of Mississippi has effectively endorsed this degree of discriminatory, prejudicial, and antisocial behavior. The government of the state of Mississippi will have made it painfully obvious that they view LGBT Americans as second-class citizens and that they have relegated these citizens into a psuedo-apartheid. The government of the state of Mississippi will have effectively resurrected the ghosts of its bigoted past, only this time the targets are not African-Americans, but gay and transgender Americans.
Welcome to gay Jim Crow.
According to House Bill 1523, its purpose is to “create the ‘Protecting Freedom of Conscience from Government Discrimination Act,'” which is designed to:
- provide certain protections regarding a sincerely-held religious belief or moral conviction for Mississippians, as well as religious and privately-operated institutions within the state of Mississippi;
- define what constitutes a discriminatory action for purposes relating to the Protecting Freedom of Conscience from Government Discrimination Act;
- provide Mississippians the ability to state that any violation of this act is considered a “claim against the government”;
- provide certain remedies;
- require that any Mississippian who feels a discriminatory action was taken against them in violation of the Protecting Freedom of Conscience from Government Discrimination Act must make a “claim under this act” within two years of the infraction;
- provide certain definitions; and for all related purposes.
In short, House Bill 1523 allows for the enacting of legislation that puts the state’s Christian population in an untouchable position when it comes to violating the civil and human rights of gay and transgender men and women within the state of Mississippi. The Protecting Freedom of Conscience from Government Discrimination Act is not a piece of legislation that altruistically protects the sincerely-held religious beliefs and moral convictions of Mississippians, but is instead a license, afforded by the state government, to commit hate crimes and act with extreme prejudice with an infinite number of “Get Out of Jail Free” cards.
Section 2 of the bill lays bare who is protected by its language. It doesn’t even pretend to be a neutral bill.
“Sincerely held religious beliefs or moral convictions protected by this act are the belief or conviction that:
(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.”
The bill even goes so far as to spell out what degrees of discriminatory behavior are endorsed by the Mississippi government. Entities expressing a “sincerely-held religious belief or moral conviction” can, with the state government’s express consent:
- decline to formalize or in any way recognize a marriage between non-heterosexuals, including providing any services;
- freely practice discriminatory hiring, termination, and disciplinary policies against employees who allegedly violate the organization’s religious beliefs;
- choose not to sell, rent, or otherwise provide shelter;
- refuse to provide foster or adoptive services to anyone who violates the organization’s religious beliefs without fear of losing subsidies;
- impose their religious beliefs on children, even adoptive and foster parents;
- refuse to provide counseling, treatment, or surgery related to gender transition or same-sex parenting;
- choose not to provide services for any marriage ceremony or occasion that involves recognizing a marriage, including:
- Disc-jockey services
- Wedding planning
- Floral arrangements
- Dress making
- Cake or pastry artistry
- Assembly hall or other wedding venue rentals
- Limousine or other car-service rentals
- Jewelry sales and services
- choose to establish “sex-specific standards or policies concerning employee or student dress or grooming,” as well as manage the access of restrooms and other sex-segregated facilities;
- openly express their beliefs without fear of consequence, even state employees;
- choose not to authorize or license legal marriages by recusing themselves from those duties.
That is absolutely mind-blowing. The consequences of this bill, should it pass, would be staggering. While the bill obviously targets the LGBT community, that does not mean that its enforcement is restricted. Theoretically, the effects of Mississippi’s Protecting Freedom of Conscience from Government Discrimination Act could extend to any group of people or any individual person a Mississippian views to be an ideological threat or ideologically incompatible.
- A government clerk could refuse to issue a marriage license to a heterosexual couple if one of the parties has been divorced.
- An adoption agency, funded by taxpayers, could refuse to place a child with a heterosexual couple if they had been cohabiting before marriage.
- A taxpayer-funded organization that provides shelter to kids who have suffered abuse could turn away a pregnant teenager, even if she were raped.
- A counselor could refuse to see a depressed teenager if her mother were single.
- A counselor could refuse to help any person who calls the suicide hotline.
- An LGBT child could be forced by their adoptive parents or foster parents into “conversion therapy.”
- A company could fire a woman for refusing to comply with her boss’ sexual advances.
These are just a few of the countless possible ways House Bill 1523 could be implemented in a way that shatters the social stability of the Mississippian population.While some of these examples may seem extreme, consider that House Bill 1523 was initially proposed in the Mississippi House of Representatives last month, passing by a vote of 80-39. It also passed through the Mississippi state Senate by a vote of 31-17, returning to the house for an amendment concurrence before being sent to Governor Bryant, who is expected to sign it into law.
Making matters even worse, anyone who takes advantage of the language in House Bill 1523 will be protected from any kind of fine or penalty, including tax penalties, a loss of contracts or grants, any loss of benefits, any revocation or suspension of any license or certification, any revocation or suspension of any custodial award or agreement, or any setback in employment. Furthermore, these protections are extended even to conflicts that do not involve the state government, allowing anyone to cite their religious beliefs as justification for discriminatory behavior against anyone — an ideological free-for-all, where incidentally, the person citing their religious beliefs or moral convictions is not only entitled to a victory in court should a lawsuit be filed, but also compensatory damages paid out by the person or persons or entity they discriminated against.
Basically, Person A can fire Person B from their job because Person B got pregnant and is unwed. Person B sues Person A for wrongful termination, but because Person A acted in accordance with a “sincerely-held religious belief or moral conviction,” Person A will emerge from the lawsuit without a scratch. Person A will also be able to receive compensation from Person B solely because Person B sued because she was fired by Person A for getting pregnant out of wedlock.
As noted previously, Mississippians who choose to take advantage of House Bill 1523 are untouchable.
While no city in Mississippi has explicitly adopted policies that outright ban the discrimination of LGBT Americans within their city limits, many cities — such as Jackson, Magnolia, Oxford, and Hattiesburg — have passed resolutions opposing discrimination against LGBT Mississippians. However, House Bill 1523 would supersede those bans even if they were in place, similarly to how it supersedes the resolutions currently in effect in those cities and others have passed resolutions similarly. Should the aforementioned cities, or others, decide to pass enforceable law in the future, House Bill 1523 would immediately void those laws. All of the forms of discrimination described in House Bill 1523 will, on July 1st (assuming it continues it’s assumed trajectory), will be endorsed by the Mississippi government and perfectly legal, regardless of what any city has to say on the matter.
Critics are saying this piece of legislation may be the worst anti-LGBT bill the nation has ever seen. I’m inclined to agree.