Mississippi took a regrettable turn into the past Tuesday when Gov. Phil Bryant signed into law the Protecting Freedom of Conscience from Government Discrimination Act – a red herring title for the right to refuse service to the GLBT community on religious grounds.
The new law sends Mississippi back to the Jim Crow image it has fought hard to shed. Only the color of skin is not the issue this time. Personal beliefs that don’t fit a fervent religious lifestyle are the target.
Aimed at legalizing discrimination against same-sex couples and unconventional individuals, the law represents an abandonment of the nation’s precious foundation of personal liberty.
Bryant signed the bill into law over the objection of civil rights leaders, business owners and ministers, saying he did so with “deeply held religious beliefs.” He falsely claims the law only prevents government from interfering with “people of faith” who want nothing to do with gay marriage.
The law embraced by the governor and the legislature blatantly says charities, businesses and government employees can discriminate against a fellow Mississippian or visitor to the state based on personal religious beliefs. That covers way more than same-sex marriage. And the consequences will range wide when it comes to attracting businesses, conventions, big-time sporting events and other interstate commerce.
A similar law was approved recently in North Carolina and is already beginning to affect that state’s potential to attract companies and expansions because of outrage over discrimination. Georgia’s governor rightly vetoed a so-called religious liberty bill passed by that state’s legislature.
Mississippi has collectively damned freedom for many citizens by approving this unconscionable law. The act signed by the governor violates separation of church and state and cruelly re-establishes the painful era of separate lunch counters and the destructive discriminatory practices of the civil rights era.
In a land of great diversity, where citizens are guaranteed a life free of government intrusion, Mississippi has defiantly wagged its fist at the nation’s foundation.
The fallout will be harsh.
In the interest of fairness and decency, a federal court challenge should be initiated promptly. Such a discriminatory law cannot withstand legal scrutiny in a country that guarantees equal rights for all people. Surely, our justice system will douse these invidious flames of the past.
This editorial appeared Wednesday on the front page of the Meridian, Mississippi, Star, a sister newspaper of the Clinton Herald.