Most state sessions have come to an end, making now a good time to take a look back at some of the bills Americans United worked to oppose under our project, Protect Thy Neighbor (PTN). It is also a good time for us to thank you, our supporters, for making a difference. This is the final part of our two part series reviewing the good, the bad, and the ugly of the 2016 state legislative sessions.
Yesterday, we recapped the good— the harmful bills that were stopped. In today’s post, we cover the bad and the ugly of the 2016 state legislative sessions.
Discrimination By Therapists
Tennessee earned the notorious distinction of being the only state in the country to enact legislation that allows counselors and therapists to use their own religious and moral beliefs to justify denying medical services to patients. It’s no surprise that this harmful law is already subject to a lawsuit.
Discrimination in Student Clubs
Kansas Governor Sam Brownback signed SB 175 into law, which allows faith-based student groups at public universities to restrict membership to only those who adhere to the groups’ beliefs and specific standards of conduct. This means students’ tuition dollars could go to groups that discriminate.
Broad Discrimination Bill Enacted
Mississippi enacted an especially dangerous “religious liberty” bill. Mississippi’s HB 1523, allows a broad range of individuals, corporations, healthcare providers, and nonprofit organizations—including those that receive taxpayer funding to perform social services—to refuse to provide goods and services to many individuals and their families, including same-sex couples, single mothers, divorcees, and anyone who has had sex outside of marriage. And to make matters worse, HB 1523 also specifically targets transgender people. Individuals and civil rights organizations have already brought legal challenges against the law and the U.S. Departments of Housing & Urban Development, Health & Human Services, and Transportation have indicated that these agencies are reviewing the law.
Targeting the Transgender Community
This session we increasingly saw an ugly new trend in legislation, like Mississippi HB 1523, that explicitly targets our transgender neighbors.
The most infamous of the bunch is North Carolina’s HB 2. This harmful law has garnered much attention and outrage as it is perhaps the first state law of its kind in the country. Among other things, it prohibits transgender individuals from using the bathroom that corresponds to their gender identity, but it does not employ the framework of a “religious liberty” bill. Since enactment, however, one of the several lawsuits filed does makes religious liberty claims.
Oklahoma’s SB 1619 did employ the framework of religious liberty to allow discrimination against transgender students. This mean spirited bill would have required schools to exclude transgender students from bathrooms if another student claimed that sharing a bathroom with a transgender student violated his or her “sincerely held religious beliefs.” This bill was introduced during the final two weeks of the session and quickly advanced out of the Senate. Fortunately, the bill died in the House.
Unfortunately, we expect to see many more bills like SB 1619 and HB 2 as well as lawsuits seeking to misuse RFRA to justify discrimination against transgender individuals.
Thank you for helping us protect our neighbors. Over the last year, together, we’ve seen harmful bills defeated and raised alarm about the bad and the ugly. We will continue to monitor the states that remain in session, as well as follow what’s going on in Congress, federal agencies, and the White House. Sign up here to join the fight.