Last Week in Review: April 4–8

Bills That Became Law

On April 5, Mississippi Governor Phil Bryant signed HB 1523 into law. As we have mentioned in previous posts, this is one of the broadest and worst “religious freedom” bills we have seen this year. Once it goes into effect, it will allow state employees, corporations, individuals, healthcare providers, and nonprofit organizations to use religion as a justification to discriminate against nearly everyone—same sex couples, single mothers, divorcees, and anyone who has had sex outside of marriage.  In the days after singing the bill, many civil rights groups, local governments, businesses, elected officials, and musicians have spoken out against the new law and it is being reviewed by three federal agencies. 

Bills That Moved

Tennessee’s SB 1556 would allow licensed counselors and therapists to turn away patients based on “sincerely held principles.” The House passed the measure on April 6. The bill now goes back to the Senate to concur on the House version of the bill; then it will head to the Governor. The Director of Government Affairs at the American Counseling Association has spoken out against this bill stating:

“Passing this legislation is not only morally wrong and a dangerous precedent, but could also result in costly unintended consequences for Tennessee, including for the hundreds of thousands of state residents who rely on accessible and professional counseling services.”

The Governor has stated that he has not yet decided whether he will veto this bill.

Bills to Watch

We will continue to monitor Missouri’s SJR 39, a proposed constitutional amendment. If approved, it would enshrine discrimination in the state constitution by allowing businesses and taxpayer-funded organizations to ignore any law that conflicts with their “sincere religious belief concerning marriage between two persons of the same sex.” The House Emerging Issues Committee is expected to consider the measure this week.

Alabama has a few “religious freedom” bills that we are watching.  These include HB 158 would allow adoption agencies to refuse to place children based on the agencies’ religious beliefs, rather than the best interest of that child, and HB 159, which would allow health care providers to use their religious and moral beliefs as an excuse to discriminate against patients and refuse to provide health care services.