When religious protection and personal liberty collide

On April 5, Mississippi Governor Phil Bryant signed a bill into law that claims to protect people’s right to religious freedom. Enforcement of the law will begin July 1. Functionally, the bill will turn out to be one of the most discriminatory anti-LGBT laws in the United States.

The bill states that individuals, religious organizations and certain businesses can decline services based on their religious beliefs. Under the bill, services may be declined if those services violate any religious beliefs of the provider. The religious protections implicitly target lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people.

The bill also states, “a person’s gender/sex is defined as an individual’s immutable biological sex as objectively determined by anatomy and genetics at the time of birth.”

According to ABC News, this means that queer people in the state of Mississippi can be legally denied a number of services because their lifestyles allegedly violate certain religious beliefs. Specifically, religious organizations protected by the law can decline to provide wedding-related services, make hiring and discipline related decisions for their employees, and decline to sell or rent housing based on religious beliefs.

This is horrifying. These laws are discriminatory, bigoted and outdated. It is almost impossible to believe that in 2016, someone can be legally denied housing, employment and the right to have a wedding because of who they are. Who do these legislators think they are? It did not seem like things for non-heteronormative people could get any worse after the North Carolina bill recently passed, and yet here we are.

This country was founded by those fleeing religious persecution, and it seems that those lessons have been ignored or purposefully forgotten in order to push forward a certain agenda and in favor of blatant homophobia. Do the First and the Fourteenth Amendments of the U.S. Constitution mean nothing to these lawmakers?

Employers and institutions can create policies concerning what sexes can access certain restrooms, locker rooms, spas or other related facilities. They can also create policies demanding employees dress in sex-specific ways. State employees and those acting on behalf of the state may recuse themselves from authorizing or licensing legal marriages. In addition, professionals can decline medical, psychological and mental health related services including counseling or sex reassignment surgery.

Not only will Mississippi residents be prevented from obtaining certain housing or employment, they will potentially be denied life-saving medical treatment and be forced to use bathrooms or locker rooms that do not match their gender identity.

Furthermore, the bill would literally give state employees the right to eschew their jobs à la Kim Davis because of their belief system, not what the U.S. Supreme Court says. Is this how little respect people have for our country’s highest court? Is this how much people fear the conservative right? Either way, it is legal discrimination on a new level that I did not think could happen in 2016. I was wrong.

Singer Bryan Adams cancelled his concert there to protest the law, as Bruce Springsteen did with North Carolina. NBC News reports that Democratic Governors Andrew Cuomo of New York and Mark Dayton of Minnesota issued executive orders banning all non-essential state travel to Mississippi.

This law is the exact reason why we need national protection of queer people. If this issue is left up to the states, those residents in states like Mississippi and North Carolina will be repressed by state legislators brimming with zealotry and bigotry. Queer people need federal protection, because clearly their states will offer no such thing.