According to Mississippi Today, Sanderson Farms, the third largest poultry producer in the US and the only Fortune 1000 company headquartered in Mississippi, publicly announced its opposition to HB 1523. Although commonly referred to as the state’s “religious freedom,” the bill actually uses religion to allow discrimination, particularly against LGBTQ people. HB 1523 would allow a range of individuals, corporations, healthcare providers, and nonprofit organizations— including those that receive taxpayer funding to perform social services— to refuse, based on their religious beliefs, to provide goods and services to same-sex couples, single mothers, divorcees, and anyone who has had sex outside of marriage and their families.
Shortly after the Mississippi legislature adopted the bill last year, a federal court enjoined the state from enforcing it. Mississippi Governor Phil Bryant and Department of Human Services Director John Davis later appealed that decision to the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals, which is currently considering the case.
Sanderson Farms is just one of many companies to submit amicus briefs in the appeal. American International Group, Inc., Bloomberg L.P., Levi Strauss & Co., Pfizer, Inc., CVS Health Corporation, and other businesses also joined a brief opposing the law.
“We have 13,000 employees in five states," Sanderson Farms' Chief Financial Officer Mike Cockrell said. "We don’t know how many of them were impacted by this bill, but even if it was one, it’s important for us to protect their constitutional rights where we can. Our vision states that we treat each person with dignity, and if someone is impeded from exercising their rights, that’s not respectful. And it was important to us to make sure that our voice was heard.”
Americans United agrees: religion should never be used as an excuse to ignore non-discrimination laws. That's why we also joined an amicus brief opposing the law. Religious freedom is a fundamental American value— it guarantees us the freedom to believe or not as we see fit. But it does not grant anyone a right to harm others.
We applaud companies like Sanderson Farms for recognizing that HB 1523 poses a threat to their employees and Mississippians as a whole. We hope that others join them in standing up to those who would harm our neighbors.