HB 1523 or the Protecting Freedom of Conscience From Government Discrimination Act is set to go into effect Friday, Oct. 6 after the federal Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals refused a rehearing by a full court on Barber v. Bryant on Sept. 29, a lawsuit attempting to block the legislation. The court argued that since the law isn’t in effect yet and nobody has been hurt by the bill, litigation cannot be brought against the case.
HB 1523 protects state employees and other citizens who hold and act on certain beliefs from prosecution for denying services such as Photographs or solemnizing marriages to individuals if it is contrary to these beliefs. The beliefs that are protected are the beliefs that marriage is a union between man and women, sexual relations are reserved to such a union and that sex is determined at birth by ones genetics and anatomy,
This bill was signed by Phil Bryant last year and is a direct response to a bill passed in 2015 that legalized same sex marriage across the country.
“As I have said from the beginning, this law was democratically enacted and is perfectly constitutional,” Bryant said in a statement to Fox News. “The people of Mississippi have the right to ensure that all of our citizens are free to peacefully live and work without fear of being punished for their sincerely held religious beliefs.”
Some critics of the bill, such as Director of the Sarah Isom Center for Women and Gender Studies at the University of Mississippi, Dr. Jaime Harker, argue that not only is the bill unconstitutional but that it is reminiscent of the pre-civil rights era in Mississippi when people were allowed to openly discriminate against people depending on their beliefs.
“I don’t know if its intentional or not but what I think [the bill is] going to tell a lot of folks in this state is that its open season on you,” Harker said. “What it does is basically take away your confidence as a citizen of this state, that you can be treated equally as everybody else.”
“You don’t know when or how you may have service denied to you and its that uncertainty that I think is going to be the thing that’s most difficult,” Harker said. “You’re just going to be going about your life and at any random moment, somebody behind a counter because they don’t like the way you look or the way you talk or the shirt your wearing or the sticker on your car, will say ‘we don’t serve your kind here.’ We’ve already had that happen once in this state and it wasn’t good for anybody.”
“[The bill] lists a lot of very particular instances it could apply to, that includes private and state government,” Harker said. “What this means is you have no idea now, as a queer person in this state, when you could be denied service based on, not whether its true or not, but whether their perception is that your queer.”
“If your living together, boyfriend and girlfriend, and they think you’re having sex outside of marriage, that is enough reason [to deny service],” Harker said. “If they think you’re trans because you don’t perform your gender the way they think is appropriate, they can deny service.”
People who experience discrimination can report it to the Campaign for Southern Equality, The group that brought the original litigation against the case to court, by calling their hotline (828.242.1559), by email (firstname.lastname@example.org) or by posting on their Facebook page: www.facebook.com/southernequality. Their team of attorneys, clergy and organizers are available to offer support and resources.
“HB1523 is the nation’s most extreme anti-LGBTQ law,” The group says on its website. “It will bring undeniable damage to the lives of thousands of Mississippians, paving the way for deep harm and discrimination. As a community, we will fight this law every step of the way. We stand proudly with LGBTQ Mississippians in working to ensure that everyone can live their lives free from fear of state-sanctioned discrimination. We stand ready to challenge discrimination in all forms and will bring lawsuits against those who discriminate against their LGBTQ neighbors and fellow Mississippians.
“Its time for allies in this state to stand up and let the LGBTQ community know they’re valued,” Harker said. “They’re supported. They’re loved. Especially queer kids. That’s the danger we got right now. I think what a lot of queer kids are going to take from this is ‘you’re not wanted here,’ ‘you’re not welcome here,’ ‘we don’t want your kind here.’ That’s the message they’re going to get and if we don’t want to send that message, we as a community have to send a different one.”