Movements Last Week
Last Wednesday, the Missouri House Emerging Issues Committee postponed its vote on SJR 39– the resolution to enshrine discrimination in the Missouri Constitution by allowing businesses and taxpayer-funded organizations to ignore laws that conflicts with their sincerely held religious beliefs about marriage. Reports indicate that the Committee postponed the vote because it did not have enough support to move the bill forward. Supporters were pleased that they would have more time to try to gather support. Opponents were disappointed that the Committee didn’t simply vote to reject the bill. This is especially true since last Wednesday was also Equality Day at the Missouri State Capitol and LGBT and civil rights groups—joined by Michael Sam, the first openly gay NFL player drafted into the NFL and former University of Missouri football player—spent the day lobbying against the bill. Many had also intended to attend the committee meeting to watch the vote.
The Committee could vote on this bill as early as this evening.
Backlash against HB 1523 continues to grow as more individuals and corporations speak out against this overly broad so-called religious freedom bill that Governor Phil Bryant recently signed into law. This bill allows 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.
President Obama spoke out against HB 1523 during a press conference with U.K. Prime Minister David Cameron on Friday. When asked about the fact that the U.K issued a travel warning to its citizens in response to laws like HB 1523 and North Carolina’s HB 2, he responded:
I also think that the laws that have been passed [in North Carolina and Mississippi] are wrong and should be overturned . . . I just disagree with them when it comes to respecting the equal rights of all people — regardless of sexual orientation, whether they're transgender or gay or lesbian.
Over the weekend, Michelle Obama used her commencement address at Jackson State University in Mississippi, to speak out against HB 1523 and similar “religious freedom” bills. She noted that Statehouses are “writ[ing] discrimination into the law.” And lamented: “We see it right here in Mississippi — just two weeks ago -– how swiftly progress can hurtle backward, how easy it is to single out a small group and marginalize them because of who they are or who they love.”
In addition, many people of faith spoke out against the law. More than 30 ministers of the United Methodist Church’s Mississippi Annual conference released a statement condemning the bill. The statement read: "We believe that any attempt to legislate and sign into law discriminatory practices against any group of people is sinful and does harm to the body of Christ and to the well being of the communities both church and government are called to serve."
And before her concert, pop singer Belinda Carlisle held a press conference with Ocean Springs Mayor Connie Moran, ministers, and members of the LBGT community to condemn the legislation. Mayor Moran said that the bill “is not about love and it is not about Jesus,” but instead about hate. And, Belinda Carlisle said that she “can't imagine anything less Christian than using the law as a weapon against others.”
The Oklahoma legislature advanced HJR 1062, creating a ballot initiative that would repeal the state’s current Constitutional provision protecting church state separation. The current language in this “no-aid provision” reads:
No public money or property shall ever be appropriated, applied, donated, or used, directly or indirectly, for the use, benefit, or support of any sect, church, denomination, or system of religion, or for the use, benefit, or support of any priest, preacher, minister, or other religious teacher or dignitary, or sectarian institution as such.
Repealing this provision would, among other things, allow taxpayer funds to flow directly to religious organizations, including organizations that provide important services to the community like schools and social service organizations, but which often engage in discrimination in employment and the provision of services.
What To Watch For This Week
The North Carolina General Assembly begins its short session today. Opening day was met with rallies and renewed calls to repeal HB 2, the bill signed by Governor McCrory in a one-day special session last month that limited legal protections for LGBT people in the state.
We will be watching for SB 550, a Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) the Senate introduced last year. This bill carries over into the current session and, if enacted, would create a potential religious exemption in each and every law in the state and threatens civil rights by opening the door for individuals—and even corporations—to use religion as an excuse to discriminate and to trump public safety and health laws.
Two weeks ago, SB 1556, a bill that would allow counselors and therapists to use their own religious and moral beliefs to justify denying medical services to patients advanced out of the legislature and was sent to the Governor’s desk. In Tennessee, after a bill is sent to the Governor, the Governor must sign or veto the legislation within 10 days (excluding Sunday) or it will become law. Governor Haslam has just a couple more days to sign or veto this legislation before this deadline. If this bill does become law, it will be the first of its kind.