HRC Blog

Growing Momentum Against ‘License to Discriminate’ Bill in Mississippi

Following Senate passage of SB 2681 in Mississippi, a State House committee began consideration of the so-called "Religious Freedom Restoration Act" on Wednesday.  The measure would give businesses a license to discriminate against customers based on their personal religious beliefs.  A proposed amendment to the bill that has been made public does not allay concerns about the scope and breadth of the legislation. 

HRC State Legislative Director Sarah Warbelow issued the following statement: 

“While offered with good intentions, the amendment still allows the bill to make LGBT people strangers to the law. Before Mississippi has had the opportunity robustly discuss the lived experiences of LGBT people, this bill would foreclose full protections. ”

The House Judiciary B Committee could act on the proposed amendments and vote on the bill early next week with a looming Tuesday deadline.

Earlier this week, Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer vetoed a similar measure that had passed through that state’s legislature after receiving enormous pressure from a number of prominent Arizonans like Sen. John McCain and Sen. Jeff Flake, as well as the Arizona Chamber of Commerce and Industry, the Arizona Tech Council, dozens of faith leaders from across the state, major corporations including AT&T, PetSmart, American Airlines, Delta Airlines, Apple, and even the Arizona Super Bowl Host Committee and the Arizona Cardinals

Elsewhere a tidal wave of Republicans have spoken out against similar bills popping up across the country.  Earlier this week, Republican Mississippi State Rep. Toby Barker of House District 102 announced his intention to vote against his state’s bill, stating, “Section 1 is unnecessary, ambiguous and leaves too much open for interpretation.”  

The sentiment echoes that of James Richardson, a former spokesman and adviser to former Mississippi Governor Haley Barbour, who yesterday published a piece to CNN.com opposing Georgia’s “license to discriminate” legislation. He writes:

“The state may shift from the cradle of the civil rights movement to the vanguard of legalized 21st-century bigotry with the consideration of this legislation, modeled on Arizona's, that would allow businesses to refuse service to gay and lesbian customers on the basis of alleged religious conviction.” 

Former Oklahoma Governor Frank Keating told the New York Times this week that he would veto similar legislation if it crossed his desk.

“This isn’t 1964 anymore,” he said. “We’ve moved beyond that. If you open up your doors to the general public, you can’t pick and choose who you are going to deal with.” 

HRC has called on other states, including Georgia, Kansas, Maine, Missouri, Ohio, Oregon, South Dakota and Tennessee, to abandon their own “license to discriminate” bills. 

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