Down South

In Mississippi, Recently freedom has been taken away and for those who are victims at the forefront, they can’t even turn to the state because they are the ones who took their freedom. For those unaware of HB 1523, also called the Religious Accommodation Act , Gov. Phil Bryant of Mississippi signed the controversial Protecting Freedom of Conscience from Government Discrimination Act into law (April 15 2016.) Bryant did so to protect the rights of people with deeply held religious beliefs. But what about the people who believe in Christ or a higher power yet can’t help who they are.

House Bill 1523, authored by House Speaker Philip Gunn, has drawn both national and state attention with groups as varied as the Human Rights Campaign and the Mississippi Manufacturers Association. All these groups call for the governor to veto the bill. Minutes after signing the bill, Bryant appeared on the JT Show, a conservative talk radio show to discuss the details. While on the show Bryant, defended the bill, saying it only prevented government from interfering with people of faith who are exercising their religious beliefs in matters of marriage. He also went further to say that it would not allow discrimination of anyone (except for homosexuals or those who chose to go against the bill). Those pro HB-1523 could argue that their rights have been taken away by having to serve people who clash with their religious beliefs. ACLU Director of communications Zakiya Summers-Harlee says, “The Mississippi Legislature and Governor Phil Bryant have set Mississippi back to an era that treated some citizens as “less than” with the passage and signing of House Bill 1523.” Among these citizens government employees, contractors, and for profit businesses are to act with impunity based on “seriously held religious beliefs or moral conviction objection” Summers-Harlee Further continues to say, “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.” Mississipi is one of two states that allows such wide-ranging discrimination against same-sex couples, transgender people, single parents, and all unmarried people regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity.

The mounting fallout includes a growing number of businesses, faith leaders, public figures, and individuals who have voiced their concerns, condemning HB 1523 as a dangerous measure that not only hurts all hardworking people but also creates a problem that doesn’t exist in Mississippi. The bill isn’t just anti-LGBT, it’s anti-human. In conclusion Summers-Harlee says, “Bottom line: Prejudice prevents progress, instead of looking for ways to divide Mississippians, we should seek ways to unite us and increase opportunities for every Mississippian to succeed. There is no place for hate in our state.” Not all people in Mississippi think HB 1523 is the answer to all their problems and it’s important to realize that. This bill is simply Anti-Human as the ACLU says, and this bill in the most extreme cases would also put single mothers at risk of being evicted from their homes and apartments (because of having premarital sex or children out of wedlock.) It also could cost unmarried people their jobs or prevent them from being hired, if they let it slip that they have been sexually active even once. The bill is not just an LGBTQ matter. It deserves closer inspection if that is all the bill is being considered as. HB 1523- says people can deny services or goods for the “celebration or recognition of any marriage, based upon or in a manner consistent with a sincerely held religious belief or moral conviction,” which would include pre-ceremony celebrations, post-wedding celebrations, anniversary celebrations and other related celebrations, opponents argue. At a recent Human Rights Campaign in Mississippi, which held a protest and rally outside the state Capitol and the Governor’s Mansion Phil Bryant was seen refusing to meet with LGBT people and ignored business leaders.

Ten other states have passed or are considering similar bills. North Carolina’s governor and Legislature recently approved a similar law. Missisippi is losing tons of business accounts and according to the Human Rights Campaign executives from Paypal, GE, the Dow Chemical Company, PepsiCo, Hewlett Packard Enterprises, Hyatt Hotels Corporation, Choice Hotels International, Inc., Levi Strauss & Co., and Whole Foods Market signed the open letter against the legislation. One of the most prominent defenses of this bill is its protection of religious rights. It also targets transgender residents, claiming that one’s sex assigned at birth is fixed, and will be the only gender recognized by the state. The law takes effect July 1st of this year. What the state fails to realize is that being a single mother is never an option, or being lesbian, gay or transgender is not a choice. HB 1523 isn’t the only law that is allowing refusal of service. In North Carolina HB 2 Passed a law that makes it illegal for transgender people to use a bathroom that was not of their birth given sex. Once again the state is discriminating a person of their own free will, what happens to all those individuals who fought their lives to be seen as this person who now will not be recognized as a citizen but as a criminal. Everyone serves a purpose and most of us are trying to live as honest we can, so why try and mask who we are with an unknown identity. If this is what the south calls Southern Hospitality I think I’ll pass.

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