Religious Liberties Bill 1523 passes MS House of Representatives

JACKSON, Miss. — The heavily contested bill often called the Religious Liberties Bill will soon be headed to the governor’s desk.

As WJTV’s Lucy Dieckhaus reports, this bill is drawing controversy from big businesses and people around the nation.

The actual title of the bill is the “Protecting Freedom of Conscience from Government Discrimination Act,” but depending on who you ask, House Bill 1523 either protects people of faith or is a license to discriminate.

With a 69 to 45 vote, the Mississippi House is sending Governor Phil Bryant a bill that would allow government employees and private businesses to deny services based on religious beliefs. Many see that as an effort to deny services to same-sex couples in particular. House Democrats have used strong words when referring to 1523.

“This is a gateway for legalizing discrimination in Mississippi. You well basically if you have any religious beliefs, regardless of how obscure they may be, then you get to say I base my discrimination on that, and therefore I am legally entitled to discriminate,” said Representative Jay Hughes.

Republican lawmakers say this bill is not about discrimination, but rather protecting the people of Mississippi.

“In fact, it is almost reverse discrimination. I had a person ask me last night at a meeting at a town hall meeting in my hometown. When did it become socially acceptable to discriminate against Christians?” said Representative Andy Gipson.

Representative Hughes says the legislature should shift its focus to more pressing issues.

“We’ve got healthcare with hundreds of thousands of them with no access, and our public schools have been shorted one point seven billion. Those are issues we need to be dealing with, but instead, we seem to be focused down there on God, gays, and guns. Those are all very heartfelt things, but they are not things necessarily that should be taking priority when the rest of our society is crumbling,” said Hughes.

Governor Bryant’s office says he will thoroughly review the bill before making a decision, but some Democrats believe he’s been upfront about how he feels about this bill.

“We know the governor will sign it. He signed the Confederate Heritage month. He approved that so I see no doubt in my mind that he will not sign this because this is something he has been pushing,” said Representative Christopher Bell.

Some corporations in Mississippi, including Nissan North America, oppose the bill. Mississippi is one of 10 states considering bills in response to the U.S. Supreme Court ruling that legalized same-sex marriage nationwide. This bill is similar to one Georgia’s Republican governor vetoed Monday after several businesses said it would allow discrimination.

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