How much courage does it take to do nothing? Seriously.
After Gov. Phil Bryant signed the Religious Liberty Accommodations Act last week, House Speaker Philip Gunn began his statement praising the governor’s “courage.” As he continued, Gunn begged people to read the act and see for themselves that it doesn’t do anything.
He’s right. The act says people won’t be punished if they break state laws that don’t exist. Wow. That’s a relief.
Otherwise, the act doesn’t fix the problem of public employees or private businesses invoking their deeply held personal religious to decline to provide services to, well, those they condemn as sinners.
Why? Because that’s not a problem.
Yes, there was a merchant in the Jackson area who put up a “No Muslims” sign several months ago. But there hasn’t been an epidemic of gay people forcing their money into the pockets of people who don’t want it.
And even if there were such an epidemic, it’s 100 percent clear any resulting litigation would be in federal court. “We would caution government officials and others that House Bill 1523 does not override federal law or constitutional rights,” said Attorney General Jim Hood. “If a person or government official violates a federal statute or constitutional provision, House Bill 1523 will not protect that official from a federal lawsuit or from potential personal liability under federal law.”
What the legislation does— and what it was meant to do — is put Mississippi on record as disagreeing with the one-vote majority in Obergefell vs. Hodges, decided by the U.S. Supreme Court last year. In simplest terms, the Equal Protection Clause says governments can’t impose different laws on different people unless there’s a public interest to be protected. Five members of the court failed to discern why same-gender couples shouldn’t have the same legal standing as mixed-gender couples.
It was a very narrow decision. It had nothing to do with religion, and it certainly didn’t tell churches, bakers or cabinet-makers they had to change a smidge.
Yet lawmakers in Mississippi felt compelled to have a hissy fit, similar to the 2014 Religious Freedom Restoration Act, which ordered that “In God We Trust” be added to the state’s official seal.
In total, 102 or Mississippi’s 154 lawmakers and the governor affirmed their belief that it is OK to single out people for different treatment if, in the view of others, they are sinners.
Even if the act is, in practical terms, pointless, it brought an immediate national lightning strike of condemnation and ridicule. That’s because it is hurtful — very hurtful — to each and every Mississippian and to the state’s future.
As has been well documented, employer organizations and employers — ranging from the highly conservative Mississippi Manufacturing Association to multinationals such as Nissan and Toyota — don’t support any discrimination of any type.
The greater harm is expressed silently. What’s beyond measure is a company that discretely strikes Mississippi from its expansion list. There will be no record when a top-notch math teacher in Kentucky or Texas or Michigan scans past any opening in Mississippi while looking for her first job. There will be no tally of high school, college, medical school graduates who no longer consider Mississippi a place they wish to remain. (Bryant pleads with young people to stay in Mississippi, but many solid young Christians believe shunning is a sad relic of centuries past — and will have no part of it.)
Hypocrisy has never been a popular trait, and this state — deeply dependent on dollars from other American taxpayers — insists again know better. We are wiser, more prudent and insightful, you know. We honor religion while others don’t.
By what standard?
Arguing the point from a biblical perspective is best done by someone else, but here’s a question: When Jesus was inviting all those people to a dinner of loaves and fishes, did he position Peter and Bartholomew to work the buffet line? Did he tell them to refuse service to Romans or Pharisees or anyone else they deemed unworthy?
Is turning people away the Christian approach to anything?
The reporter questioning Speaker Gunn asked if he thought the Religious Liberty Accommodations Act would hurt commerce. Gunn replied that he “certainly hopes it doesn’t.”
Well, he has his answer loud and clear from what he would consider good and decent people all across America.
No higher moral ground has been staked out by our leaders.
Instead they have erected a sign for all to see: “Mississippi: Where leaders have the courage to do nothing, and are proud of it.”
Charlie Mitchell is a Mississippi journalist. Write to him at email@example.com.
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