Mississippi's 'Religious Freedom' Bill: What to Know About the New 'Sweeping Anti-LGBT Law'

The ACLU of Mississippi called the bill "the Magnolia State’s badge of shame."

April 6, 2016, 2:44 PM

— -- Mississippi Gov. Phil Bryant signed House Bill 1523 into law on Tuesday, and while supporters believe the new law will protect people's right to "religious freedom" from "government discrimination," critics argue that it's the "most sweeping anti-LGBT" legislation in the U.S."

Here's everything you need to know about HB 1523, which is set to take effect on July 1:

Who Is 'Protected' by This Law

HB 1523 has also been named by lawmakers as the "Protecting Freedom of Conscience from Government Discrimination Act." It protects:

- Individuals, religious organizations and certain businesses who have "the sincerely held religious belief or moral convictions" that marriage "should be recognized as the union of one man and one woman." Sexual relations are reserved for that type of marriage. A man and a woman are defined in the law as "an individual's immutable biological sex as objectively determined by anatomy and genetics at the time of birth."

What the Law's Provisions Specifically Allow

Those whose religious beliefs and moral convictions are protected by the law can decline a multitude of products and services to people -- mainly LGBTQ+ people -- whose lifestyles violate those beliefs and convictions without being penalized by the state of Mississippi.

Specifically, religious organizations protected by the law can:

- Decline to "solemnize any marriage" or provide wedding-related services based on their religious beliefs or moral convictions. Those services run a full gamut, from wedding planning, photography, disc-jockey services and floral arrangements to cakes, venues and limos.

- Decide "whether or not to hire, terminate or discipline an individual whose conduct or religious beliefs are inconsistent” with their beliefs or moral convictions.

- Decide to whom they will sell or rent housing they control based on their religious beliefs or moral convictions.

In addition, for others protected under the law:

- Adoptive or foster parents can raise a child they’ve been granted custody of by the state with the same beliefs and convictions of those protected by the law.

- Medical and therapy professionals can decline "treatments, counseling, or surgeries related to sex reassignment or gender identity transitioning" and "psychological, counseling, or fertility services" to people whose lifestyles violate their religious beliefs.

- People can create "sex-specific standards or policies concerning employee or student dress or grooming, or concerning access to restrooms, spas, baths, showers, dressing rooms, locker rooms or other intimate facilities or settings."

- State employees and those acting on behalf of the state may recuse themselves from authorizing or licensing legal marriages, although they may not stand in the way of others doing so.

What the Law's Supporters Say

Republicans and conservatives in the state have argued that the bill is necessary for Christians and people of other faiths who felt they had to compromise their religious beliefs after the Supreme Court passed the marriage equality ruling last year.

"It gives protection to those in the state who cannot in a good conscience provide services for a same-sex marriage,” Sen. Jennifer Branning said last Wednesday. "I don’t think this bill is discriminatory. It takes no rights away."

Gov. Bryant said in a statement on Twitter Tuesday that he believed the bill "merely reinforces the rights which currently exist to the exercise of religious freedom as stated in the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution."

"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 wrote.

What the Law's Opponents Say

Democrats and LGBTQ+ advocates have argued the bill is allowing the discrimination of LGBTQ+ people.

"This is the most hateful bill I have seen in my career in the legislature," Rep. Stephen Holland said last week. "You ought to be ashamed of yourself. You are doing nothing but discrimination."

PHOTO: Protesters call for Mississippi Gov. Phil Bryant to veto House Bill 1523, which they says will allow discrimination against LGBT people, during a rally outside the Governor's Mansion in Jackson, Miss., April 4, 2016.
Protesters call for Mississippi Gov. Phil Bryant to veto House Bill 1523, which they says will allow discrimination against LGBT people, during a rally outside the Governor's Mansion in Jackson, Miss., April 4, 2016.

The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Mississippi said in a statement that Tuesday was "a sad day for the state" and for "the thousands of Mississippians who can now be turned away from businesses, refused marriage licensed, or denied housing, essential services and needed care based on who they are."

The group added, "Far from protecting anyone from ‘government discrimination’ as the bill claims, it is an attack on the citizens of our state, and it will serve as the Magnolia State’s badge of shame."

'Religious Freedom' Legislation in Other States

The newly signed bill comes after North Carolina recently enacted its own law barring local municipalities from creating their own rules prohibiting discrimination in public places based on sexual orientation and gender identity.

Georgia Governor Nathan Deal said last month he would veto a bill recently passed by his state’s Republican-controlled legislature that would allow clergy to refuse to perform gay marriages and protect people who refuse to attend the ceremonies. Churches and affiliated religious groups would also be able to decline to serve or hire someone based on their faith.

Last month, South Dakota Gov. Dennis Daugaard vetoed a bill that would have restricted transgender students’ use of gender-specific facilities in public schools. The legislature failed to override his veto.

What's Next?

Mississippi is now at risk of losing billions of dollars in federal funding, according to Jennifer Pizer, law and policy project director for Lambda Legal, a national LGBT organization that focuses on litigation, education and public policy work.

Pizer told ABC News that the state will likely face lawsuits challenging the law, "but it's unclear what the outcome of such suits could be just yet."

Additionally, the state could soon see backlash from businesses.

The Human Rights Campaign said in a statement Tuesday that some of "the state’s largest employers, including Nissan Group of North America, Tyson Food Inc., MGM Resorts International, and Toyota publicly voiced their opposition to the appalling legislation, joining national corporations such as AT&T, IBM, Levi Strauss & Co, MassMutual, General Electric, and Hyatt Hotel Corporations."