Mississippi State Flag

Mississippi passes ‘religious freedom’ law

JACKSON, Miss. — A so-called religious freedom law critics say could be used to discriminate against LGBT people was passed by Mississippi lawmakers on April 1 and signed into law by Gov. Phil Bryant on April 3. The new law will take effect on July 1.

The law says state and local governments cannot put a substantial burden on religious practices, a measure that sparked debate about possible discrimination against gay people and other groups.

An early version of the law, considered weeks ago, was similar to one that Arizona’s Republican governor, Jan Brewer, vetoed after business groups said it could hurt that state’s economy.

Supporters say the final version of the Mississippi law bears little resemblance to the failed Arizona measure. But opponents were skeptical and said the law could still prompt people to cite religious beliefs in taking actions that discriminate against gay people, women or those of different racial backgrounds or faiths.

“We don’t have a lot of good will out there in the country to fall back on when it comes to a record against discrimination,” said Sen. David Blount, D-Jackson, citing Mississippi’s troubled racial history.

The Mississippi Religious Freedom Restoration Act’s main sponsor was Republican Sen. Phillip Gandy of Waynesboro, a Baptist pastor.

“It protects Christians in the state from discrimination,” Rep. Andy Gipson, R-Braxton, who is also a Baptist pastor, told his House colleagues.

The law passed the House 79-43 and the Senate 37-14, with opposition coming from many Democrats, but not all of them.

The American Civil Liberties Union and the Human Rights Campaign issued statements criticizing the law.

“Even though the Mississippi Legislature removed some of the egregious language from Arizona’s infamous SB 1062, we are disappointed that it passed this unnecessary law and ignored the national, public outcry against laws of this nature,” Eunice Rho, advocacy and policy counsel with the ACLU, said in a news release.

Sarah Warbelow, state legislative director for Human Rights Campaign, said the law “has the effect of making LGBT people strangers to the law.”

Tony Perkins, president of the Washington-based conservative group Family Research Council, praised the law.

“The Legislature gave strong approval to a law that declares that individuals do not have to trade their religious freedom for entrance into public commerce,” Perkins said.

The law, said the Rev. Jasmine Beach-Ferrara, executive director of the Asheville, N.C.-based Campaign for Southern Equality, “would promote discrimination against LGBT individuals and families in Mississippi. As a minister, it’s clear that this extreme law is about legalizing discrimination, not protecting religious freedom.”

Beach-Ferrara added, “Furthermore, the broad implications of this law could result in discrimination aimed toward many communities,” said Beach-Ferrara.

— LGBTQ Nation

Harvey Milk stamp unveiled

harveymilkstampLinns Stamp News has unveiled the design for the U.S. commemorative stamp featuring slain gay rights activist Harvey Milk.

Milk made history as the first openly gay man to hold political office in California when he was elected to the San Francisco Board of Supervisors in 1977. He was shot and killed, along with San Francisco mayor George Moscone, on Nov. 27, 1978.

Milk will be the first openly LGBT elected official to be featured on a U.S. stamp.

The stamp features a black and white photo of Milk, and will be issued on May 22, 2014 (Harvey Milk Day) in locations yet to be determined. Both Washington, D.C., and San Francisco are potential first-day cities, according to Linns.

U.S. Postal officials announced the creation of a Harvey Milk stamp in October 2013, but this is the first time the design has been revealed.

The non-denominated “forever” stamp will sell for the current first-class postage rate of 49 cents.

— LGBTQ Nation

— LGBTQ Nation (lgbtqnation.com) is a national qnotes media partner. Reprinted with permission.