Earlier this week, Mississippi Governor Phil Bryant signed SB 2681 into law. The bill has been tabbed as a “religious freedom” bill, but critics argue it will lead to discrimination. A similar bill was vetoed in Arizona by Republican Governor Jan Brewer.
The Mississippi Religious Freedom Restoration Act would allow Mississippi businesses to deny service to someone if they feel it violates their religious rights. Many interpret this as allowing businesses to deny service to the LGBT community. Despite getting overwhelming support in the state legislature, the law is expected to face a fierce challenge in the courts.
The passage of this law, as well as similar attempts in Arizona, raises interesting questions. Where do we draw the line on religious liberty? Is religious based discrimination fair or legal? These are all questions that the US court system will be forced to answer once this law is challenged.
The implications of this law has many hearkening back to the days of the Jim Crow South. Back then, African Americans were discriminated against and denied service at many establishments. The Civil Rights Act ended such practices, making it illegal for facilities that serve the general public to discriminate based on race, color, religion, gender, or national origin.
The Civil Rights Act notably does not mention sexual orientation. As such, the courts could find Mississippi’s law constitutional. As of now, the rights of the LGBT community are not protected by federal law. Mississippi is not likely to be the last state to pass such a law. A quick glance through local coverage and comments on the law show at least some support among residents of Alabama. Like Mississippi, Alabama’s legislature is dominated by Republicans. In the future, we could see a similar measure come up in Alabama.
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