Mississippi Gov. Phil Bryant has signed into law a bill safeguarding the religious liberty of individuals and organizations who refuse to participate in same-sex weddings or gender identity transitions.
Bryant, a Republican, announced April 5 via Twitter that he signed House Bill 1523 – the Protecting Freedom of Conscience from Government Discrimination Act.
Gov. Phil Bryant
“I am signing HB 1523 into law to protect sincerely held religious beliefs and moral convictions of individuals, organizations and private associations from discriminatory action by state government or its political subdivisions, which would include counties, cities and institutions of higher learning,” Bryant said in a statement. “This 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.”
Bryant added, “This bill does not limit any constitutionally protected rights or actions of any citizen of this state under federal or state laws. It does not attempt to challenge federal laws, even those which are in conflict with the Mississippi Constitution, as the Legislature recognizes the prominence [sic] of federal law in such limited circumstances.”
Presumably, Bryant was referencing Mississippi’s 2004 state constitutional amendment defining marriage as “only between a man and a woman.”
Russell Moore, president of Southern Baptists’ Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, told Baptist Press in written comments he is “proud of Mississippi and Gov. Phil Bryant for being proactive in the defense of religious liberty.”
“This bill doesn’t discriminate against anyone or imperil civil liberties,” said Moore, a Mississippi native. “What it actually does is prohibit the government from taking sides in a culture war and discriminate against those with religious convictions. I’m thankful for Mississippi’s example, and pray that conscience freedom would become an even greater priority for governors and legislatures across the country.”
Among its provisions, the bill:
Forbids state government from taking “any discriminatory action” against an individual who declines on religious grounds to provide photography, floral arrangements or other wedding services for a same-sex marriage ceremony.
Forbids state government discrimination against any person who establishes, on religious grounds, “sex-specific standards or policies” concerning access to restrooms or locker rooms.
Permits any person authorized to license or perform marriages to seek recusal from same-sex weddings on religious grounds. At the same time, the bill requires state representatives “to ensure that the performance or solemnization of any legally valid marriage is not impeded or delayed as a result of any recusal.”
Forbids state government discrimination against adoption agencies that decline, based on religious convictions, to allow same-sex couples to adopt.
Forbids state government discrimination against religious organizations that decline to solemnize same-sex marriages or make employment decisions based on religious beliefs concerning marriage.
The bill specifies that “the sincerely held religious beliefs or moral convictions protected by this act are the belief or conviction that: (a) Marriage is or should be recognized as the union of one man and one woman; (b) Sexual relations are properly reserved to such a marriage; and (c) Male (man) or female (woman) refer to an individual’s immutable biological sex as objectively determined by anatomy and genetics at time of birth.”
William Perkins, editor of Mississippi’s Baptist Record newsjournal, said, “The Governor is a strong believer and should be applauded for his courage. The pressure on him has been enormous, and the insults are about to get personal. However, this is what the LGBT political machine has wrought. Religious people have constitutional rights, too. In their zeal to deprive us of those rights, the LGBT political machine has made such legislative actions necessary. They have to own up to that reality.”
The bill passed the Mississippi House of Representatives by a 69-44 vote and the Senate by a 32-17 margin.
Roger Severino of The Heritage Foundation, a conservative think tank, predicted Mississippi’s law will spur other states to adopt similar religious liberty protections.
“The Mississippi law prevents discrimination in a manner that is balanced and clear,” Severino said in a news release, “which left little room for ideological opponents to make wild hypothetical accusations against the bill as they had done with Indiana’s religious freedom proposal last year.”
(EDITOR’S NOTE – David Roach is chief national correspondent for Baptist Press, the Southern Baptist Convention’s news service.)