Will Mississippi Lead the Way?

I co-authored the following article with my colleague, Andrew T. Walker. It was originally published at ERLC.com

This week, the Mississippi legislature opened the door for Governor Phil Bryant to assume a leading role in the effort to preserve rights of conscience and religious liberty in his state. HB 1523, which the Mississippi House passed earlier today, is a carefully crafted piece of legislation that will protect religious freedom and provide reasonable accommodations for persons holding traditional views on marriage and sexuality. The “Protecting Freedom of Conscience from Government Discrimination Act” is an exemplary model for public policy and we strongly encourage Governor Bryant to lead on this issue by signing HB 1523 into law.

While state governments in New Mexico, Oregon, and Colorado have recently weakened religious liberty in these states, the Mississippi legislature has courageously acted to preserve rights of conscience for all Mississippians. This bill strikes an important balance that recognizes the new realities created by the Supreme Court’s Obergefell decision—legalizing same-sex marriage nationwide—while offering reasonable accommodations for citizens whose sincerely held moral and religious beliefs remain opposed to such practices. As Ryan Anderson points out, HB 1523 was written to protect the civil liberties of people who believe:

“1) that marriage is the union of husband and wife, 2) that sexual relations are reserved for marriage, and 3) that our gender identity is based on our biology.”

And what do such protections include? Consider the following examples.

It protects the rights of religious organizations by allowing each entity to determine its own criteria for solemnizing or participating in same-sex weddings. It also allows religious organizations to include shared belief among its criteria for considering potential candidates for hire.

It prevents the government from discriminating against healthcare professionals who hold beliefs that would prevent them from conducting sex-reassignment surgery or offering marriage counseling for same-sex marriages.

It preserves the right of government employees to retain their personal beliefs about marriage and sexuality by prohibiting the government from discriminating against them when “the employee’s speech or expressive conduct occurs outside the workplace.”

And inside the workplace? Again, Ryan Anderson notes, “Inside of work, it says the government can’t signal out these viewpoints for particular sanction—that employees must abide by common “time, place, and manner” regulations, but [places] no content restrictions on speech at work. It also says that a government employee may seek a recusal from issuing marriage licenses, provided they do it ahead of time and in writing, and provided they “take all necessary steps to ensure that the authorization and licensing of any legally valid marriage is not impeded or delayed.” A commonsense win-win outcome.”

And as it relates to restrooms and changing facilities, the bill allows for businesses and organizations to determine such accommodations. It further guarantees that the state will not take any action to penalize those entities who grant access to these facilities based on biological sex.

This is exactly the sort of legislation that has been desperately needed. The Mississippi legislature has taken great care to ensure that the civil liberties of all Mississippians will be protected by this bill. Though some will undoubtedly decry or castigate HB 1523 as discriminatory, it is actually the case that opposition to this bill is its own form of discrimination. The opposition to this bill is a clear demonstration that some LGBT activists and corporate interests are not interested in advancing the causes of liberty, tolerance, or plurality, but are instead committed to silencing the voice of religious citizens.

Mississippi has put forth perhaps the best post-Obergefell legislation to date. We commend the legislature for its work and voice our strong support for Governor Bryant to advance the cause of liberty by signing this bill into law.