Remember that Mississippi Senate Bill I spent a whole week stirring up outrage against? The one that so many people opposed, the MS House of Representatives was afraid to just go ahead and pass it on the floor? The one they amended to create a study committee? Well, I have no idea what the status of the study committee is in the bill that was filed at 7:47 tonight (the deadline was 8 p.m.). But look at what’s going back to both chambers for an up-or-down vote, and thanks to our friends at Deep South Progressive for telling us something the local news might not mention at all.
Section 1 of the bill says, “Government shall not substantially burden a person’s exercise of religion even if the burden results from a rule of general applicability, except as provided in paragraph (b) of this subsection.”
In practical terms, for example, that would mean that a hotel or restaurant owner could refuse service to gay customers while claiming “exercise of religion” and government would have no recourse.
New to the bill is this, found in lines 16-18 of Section 1:
(b) Laws “neutral” toward religion may burden religious exercise as surely as laws intended to interfere with religious exercise; (c) Government should not substantially burden religious exercise without compelling justification;
The target of this section seems to make it clear that the bill is meant to reach far beyond just attacking LGBT rights. In fact, it seems to hint at a case before the Supreme Court right now, Sebelius v. Hobby Lobby. In what could prove to be a landmark decision, the Supreme Court will decide whether or not corporations can refuse to provide female employees healthcare that includes birth control on the basis of religious belief (and thus whether or not corporations are people with all the rights people enjoy – including free exercise of religion).
The requirement that all healthcare plans include birth control for women may be one of those “neutral” laws that SB 2681 now mocks with quotation marks. This bill would make it clear that employers in Mississippi can refuse to comply with laws that don’t like on religious grounds. So if an employer who happens to be a Jehova’s Witness wants to deny employees access to healthcare that includes blood transfusions (which Jehova’s Witnesses are religiously opposed to), the government would have to provide a compelling justification before “interfering with” the employer’s “free exercise.”
If both houses agree to this travesty, it will land on the governor’s desk, and he will sign it. And since the senate’s already let us know how they feel, it’s time to contact your State Representative.
The towns that support Mississippi’s three largest state universities have all passed non-discrimination ordinances to ensure equality for LGBTQ Mississippians. This is about overturning those ordinances, and preempting other cities who are thinking about doing the same. Pure and simple.
Mississippi said no to this, State Legislature. This is not what we want. Get that through your thick skulls and move on. We want you to spend your time figuring out how to make the rest of us less poor, not overturning city ordinances we agree with.
Now I’ll say one more thing. Because if I can’t say this, what good is this blog? If you live in Wayne County, or Lamar County, and you are hanging your head in shame right now, you be sure you thank the Hon. Phillip Gandy and the Hon. Joey Fillingane for this disgrace. Their signatures are both on the conference report, and if it weren’t for them, the senate probably never would have taken up this bill to begin with.
Note: Just found this out tonight. I’ll have more as I receive it. The ACLU and other organizations will have statements, and there will be a date and time for the vote. But do go ahead and scream at your representative, and if your senator’s name is on the conference report, find a way to let him know he just lost a registered voter forever. Gandy and Fillingane both represent counties where we have a lot of connections, and it doesn’t take that many votes to swing a state senate race. If you’re reading this and live in Mississippi, go take a look at your Facebook network and think about that for a minute.
Image via Campaign for Southern Equality on Facebook.