As you may know I am a big supporter of both anti-discrimination laws to protect members of the LGBT community and Religious Freedom Restoration Acts to protect people of faith. The combination of these protections for each side can work together to foster rights on both sides. When one side overreaches, however, the damage to the broader cause of LGBT rights or religious freedom can be severe. I wrote the other day about the situation in Iowa. Today, I write about a law that was passed in Mississippi known as HB 1523, or the “Protecting Freedom of Conscience from Government Discrimination Act.” This law was a massive overreach and was aimed directly at same-sex marriage and LGBT rights more broadly (and in fact its language is broad enough to interfere with sexual freedom in many contexts).
Mississippi already had a Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA), which is not an issue in this context. Mississippi HB 1523 is far from a RFRA and seems designed to foster discrimination against members of the LGBT community. It covers public accommodations, for-profit entities, government workers, and even foster care. It was signed into law on April 4, 2016 and struck down as unconstitutional by a Federal District Court on June 30, 2016. Yet, by that point Mississippi had already damaged the cause of religious freedom nationally through it’s overreach. The law fed into the religious freedom=discrimination mantra that is offensively inaccurate and yet often taken as truth by the media.
When legislators openly use religious freedom protections to discriminate against the rights of same-sex couples they harm the cause of religious freedom generally. While these sorts of overreaches might play in some home districts, these legislators might as well take aim at religious freedom in America more generally, because their pandering and/or shortsightedness is leading to the slow death of religious freedom more broadly.
Thankfully, we have great examples of more balanced approaches from more thoughtful legislatures. For example, in Utah, the state passed a set of laws often referred to as the “Utah Compromise,” which both protect the rights of same-sex couples seeking to get married and those who have religious objections to facilitating same-sex marriage. The religious accommodations are designed in a manner so that there is no inconvenience or cost from the religious accommodation placed on same-sex couples. The law is not perfect, but it shows what can happen when communities work to find compromise rather than pander to the worst instincts in society. I write a lot about the Utah compromise in the book Freedom’s Edge. As I mentioned, the compromise is not perfect but it is a great start and a great example of the possibility of coming together to protect both sides.