Known as the “Protecting Freedom of Conscience from Government Discrimination Act” (House Bill No 1523) legislation has been signed into law in Mississippi in the US by the Governor, Phil Bryant, a member of the Republican party, yesterday, Tuesday 5th April. The Act is due to come into effect on 1st July this year.
The legislation allows businesses to discriminate against LGBT people and others on the basis of religious beliefs or moral convictions, such as holding the belief that marriage should only be between a man and a woman, for instance, and that gender is determined by anatomy and genetics at time of birth.
It also allows businesses to decline to provide goods or services in relation to a same-sex marriage celebration on the basis of a “sincerely held religious belief or moral conviction”.
In the case of employment, it allows businesses to make “ any employment-related decision including, but not limited to, the decision whether or not to hire, terminate or discipline an individual whose conduct or religious beliefs are inconsistent with those of the religious organization, based upon or in a manner consistent with a sincerely held religious belief or moral conviction”.
The new act also allows businesses to discriminate in relation to selling or renting accommodation, allowing them to make
“any decision concerning the sale, rental, occupancy of, or terms and conditions of occupying a dwelling or other housing under its control, based upon or in a manner consistent with a sincerely held religious belief or moral conviction”.
The act also requires that the state not take any action against a person or business that refuses treatments, counselling or surgeries to an individual, specifically mentioning sex reassignment and gender identity transitioning, on the basis of religious or moral conviction.
In the case of adoption and fostering, it allows organisations to refuse service to individuals, based on the organisation’s religious beliefs and moral convictions.
The state is prevented by the act from taking action against any business or individual who refuses to “provide the following services, accommodations, facilities, goods, or privileges for a purpose related to the solemnization, formation, celebration, or recognition of any marriage” including “Photography, poetry, videography, disc-jockey services, wedding planning, printing, publishing or similar marriage-related goods or services; or Floral arrangements, dress making, cake or pastry artistry, assembly-hall or other wedding-venue rentals, limousine or other car-service rentals, jewelry sales and services, or similar marriage-related services, accommodations, facilities or goods”.
The act also protects employees of the state and religious organisations against a Kim Davis style situation, by allowing state employees and others to recuse themselves if, for instance, asked to issue licences to same-sex couples, or perform a same-sex wedding ceremony.
It also allows for organisations to require students or employees to dress according to sex-specific standards, and to use only those rest-rooms or facilities which are sex-specific, and the state cannot act against a person or organisation that
“establishes 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”.
Whereas opponents of the Act say that it allows state-sponsored discrimination, supporters, including the state’s lieutenant governor, Tate Reeves (also a Republican) say it protects the rights of those with religious beliefs, in the wake of the Supreme Court’s decision to allow equal marriage.
‘Religious freedom laws’ similar to that of Mississippi are being proposed in about 12 US states since the Supreme Court’s ruling on equal marriage.
The full text of the Bill can be read HERE