A Closer Look at the Impact of the Mississippi Religious Freedom Act


There has been a lot of press about the recent signing in Mississippi of the Protecting Freedom of Conscience from Government Discrimination Act. The bill was signed by Governor Phil Bryant on April 5, 2016. It was passed in the Mississippi State Senate in a 32-17 vote. This legislature does not challenge or change current Federal law.

Contents of Bill

The contents of the bill have created strong pro and con reactions from Mississippi residents. CNN reports the bill “protects from discrimination claims anyone who believes that marriage is between one man and one woman, that sexual relations are reserved solely for marriage, and that the terms male and female pertain only to a person's genetics and anatomy at birth.”

National Public Radio quoted Governor Bryant’s response to many protestors explaining 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.”

Opposing Voices

CNN describes the people opposed to the bill. Members from the lesbian, bisexual, gay, and transgender communities have been vocal about their anger regarding the bill claiming it is “discriminatory against lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender communities” They are not alone in their protests. They have been joined by other civil and human rights groups in addition as well as prominent companies including:

1. Mississippi Economic Council

2. American Civil Liberties Union

3. Human Rights Campaign

4. Gay and Lesbian Alliance against Defamation

5. Nissan, AT&T, IBM, Tyson Foods

Supporters

Those in favor of the Religious Freedom Act are also vocal and passionate in their support.

The Christian-based American Family Association characterized the bill as “a win for religious freedom and applauded the governor’s decision,” according to CNN. Other public supporters of the bill include:

1. Family Religious Council

2. William Perkins, Editor of the news journal the Baptist Record

Consequences of the Passage of this Bill

This bill will have a major impact on the lives of members of the LGBT community (as well as others) including closing family building options. Examples of those affected and how includes:

1. LGBT individuals can be denied adoption and foster care services.

2. LGBT individuals can be turned down for applying for marriage licenses and performance of wedding ceremonies.

3. LGBT individuals can be refused jobs or housing.

4. Medical professionals can refuse to participate in the treatment and counseling of people opting for sex reassignment or gender transition procedures.

5. The law could impact negatively upon single parents or people living together who are not married.

Mississippi is not alone in enacting religious freedom laws, according to the National Conference of State Legislators. CNN reporter Ray Sanchez noted that NCSL observes higher numbers of religious freedom laws. “Since the U.S. Religious Freedom Restoration Act became law in 1993, 21 states have enacted religious freedom laws and amendments modeled after RFRA.”

One thing is for certain. Those that oppose, and those that are in favor of the Mississippi Protecting Freedom of Conscience from Government Discrimination Act will remain passionate in their beliefs and entrenched in their positions. People across the country will be watching to see if this law is challenged in the courts. The stakes are high for all concerned.

Iris Waichler, MSW, LCSW has been a licensed clinical social worker for over 40 years. Waichler authored Riding the Infertility Roller Coaster: A Guide to Educate and Inspire” which won 4 major book awards including best book of the year from Mom’s Choice and NAPPA. Her new book, Role Reversal How to Take Care of Yourself and Your Aging Parents“ is scheduled for release on August 16, 2016.

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