Mississippi passes religious freedom bill that LGBT groups call discriminatory

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By Eliott C. McLaughlin

Mississippi Gov. Phil Bryant signed the state’s religious freedom bill Tuesday, a piece of legislation that gay rights groups and the state’s businesses have decried as discriminatory.

Bryant said he signed the bill into law “to protect sincerely held religious beliefs and moral convictions of individuals, organizations and private associations from discriminatory action by state government.”

The bill does not challenge federal law — “even those which are in conflict with the Mississippi Constitution” — and reinforces First Amendment rights, a statement from the governor said.

“The legislation is designed in the most targeted manner possible to prevent government interference in the lives of the people from which all power to the state is derived,” he said.

The legislation will become law on July 1.

The ACLU of Mississippi promptly responded, tweeting that Bryant “just made discrimination a part of state law.”

“Welcome to Mississippi, the hospitality state that says you’re okay only if you’re straight and married!” read another tweet, incorporating the hashtag “#ShameOnPhil.”

Watchdog groups have decried the bill as discriminatory against the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community, and some analysts say the discrimination does not end with the LGBT community. It could easily be applied to unwed mothers or people living together out of wedlock, they say.

The state Senate passed the Protecting Freedom of Conscience from Government Discrimination Act on Wednesday in a 32-17 vote and sent it to Bryant.

The state’s businesses, which were relatively quiet last week as the bill navigated the state Legislature, are now decrying it as discriminatory, joining a chorus of watchdog groups — including the ACLU, Human Rights Campaign and Southern Poverty Law Center, which staged a protest at the governor’s mansion Wednesday — that have denounced it.

Included among corporations denouncing the legislation were MGM Resorts International, Nissan, Toyota, Tyson Foods, AT&T, IBM and Levi Strauss & Co.

The Mississippi Economic Council, which declined to take a position until its lawyers had reviewed the bill, updated its policy Friday and announced its opposition to the bill over the weekend. The council has 11,000 members and represents about 1,200 dues-paying companies, said the group’s president and CEO, Blake Wilson.

Its new policy reads, “As the State Chamber of Commerce for a state that has proven its hospitable and business-friendly approach, MEC opposes efforts that would intentionally or unintentionally prevent Mississippi businesses from implementing and enforcing non-discrimination policies or that would limit diversity and inclusion impacting their customers and employees.”

The stance is similar to one the council took in response to a 2014 religious bill, but the council’s board added the words, “or that would limit diversity and inclusion.”

“Our core values are no discrimination, but we didn’t really have that in writing, so we needed to get it in writing,” Wilson told CNN. “Why would we not be reflective of our core membership?”

Wilson further called the council’s stance a “no-brainer,” and while the majority of its members supported the updated policy, there were “some who didn’t agree with our position — but, hey, welcome to America.”

CNN’s Leigh Waldman, Kevin Conlon and Devon M. Sayers contributed to this report.



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