Religious Liberty or Legalized Discrimination?

Religious Liberty

“Religious Liberty” acts are coming to the floor of state legislatures from coast to coast, though in spite of the name, many are viewing them more as an attempt to legalize discrimination than secure guaranteed freedoms. In states like Mississippi, Georgia, and Utah, these bills are being seen as a thinly veiled an attack on recent human rights victories across the nation. Governor Jan Brewer has already vetoed another such bill in Arizona. Proponents of such legislation claim they are securing freedoms established by the First Amendment, though that has been hard to support in the documented cases to date.

These “Religious Liberty” bills are popping up in states as a result of the recent surge of support for same-sex marriage. There are 36 states and the District of Columbia which now recognize same-sex unions. Many of those states have legalized it within the last two years. Opponents of these “Religious Liberty” bills have denounced them as an attempt to legalize discrimination, saying that they are a poorly disguised attempt by right-wing conservatives to counter marriage equality movements across the nation.

These bills are aimed at the marketplace, allowing privately owned businesses to refuse service to anyone based on the proprietors’ religious beliefs. Such was the case in Arizona, where a photographer refused to photograph a civil union between two women. She did so claiming that it went against her religious beliefs. While a “Religious Liberty” bill would have protected her from any discrimination charges, the Governor Jan Brewer disagreed and vetoed the bill. The Arizona courts agreed with Brewer and found the photographer to be at fault. The US Supreme Court then denied a request to appeal by the photographer.

Other states, such as Mississippi, are not finding themselves so lucky. The state legislature there recently passed a “Religious Liberty” bill. The governor signed it into law, ignoring the precedent set by Governor Brewer in Arizona. Supporters in Mississippi refuse claims that their bill is an attempt to stifle the gay rights movement. Upon examination, however, the claim is difficult to defend.

Mississippi Governor Phil Bryant signed the “Religious Liberty” bill into law on April 3. He was surrounded by politicians from the state, but they were not alone. Among them was Tony Perkins, president of the Family Research Council (FRC). Perkins was one of the few people in attendance who was not a politician or even a citizen of Mississippi. Instead he stood as a representative for the FRC. The FRC has devoted countless hours and expenses to gather support for what has been called the “license-to-discriminate” bill. The FRC has also made it clear that they are in firm opposition to homosexuality. They are seeking to avoid what they call the “radical redefinition and falsification of the institution [of marriage]” as a result of same-sex marriage. If what Mississippians say is true, that their “Religious Liberty” bill was not targeting LGBT equality, opponents have asked why Perkins was present for the signing?

While Mississippi has passed their “Religious Liberty” bill, other states are still undecided about the possibility of legalizing discrimination. Arizona Governor Brewer has responded to public outcry and vetoed the state’s bill, but the question remains before the leaders of many more states, still to be decided.

By Aaron Haggerty


Image courtesy of Leanne Waldal – Flickr License

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