Tuesday, the Mississippi Legislature approved a conference report on Senate Bill 2681, the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, sending it to Gov. Phil Bryant. The bill has caused controversy ever since it was generated, with many comparing it to Arizona’s “Turn Away the Gays” bill. The bill would allow for individuals to sue over laws that place a substantial burden on their religious beliefs and practices.
The controversy that rises out of the bill’s introduction is that it could arguably open the door for discrimination, allowing businesses to not have to adhere to anti-discrimination laws if doing so would cause them to violate their religious beliefs. The gay and lesbian community feels this measure could affect them the most. It could allow businesses to deny them services because the business owner’s religion opposes homosexual relationships.
This bill, and the fact that people would discriminate and claim their religion as an excuse, deeply bothers me. Mississippi, sadly, is on the bottom of many lists. Education, health care, poverty, teenage pregnancy, infant mortality and the list goes on. One quality that Mississippi has always been able to take pride in, and I personally take pride in, is the generosity and welcoming nature of its residents. Mississippi is consistently at the top of the lists for most charitable giving, despite being the poorest state in the Union. Coined the Hospitality State, people visiting Mississippi are often blown away by the friendliness of our citizens.
Mississippi has always prided itself on being a highly religious state. Our churches are full every Sunday. Tithe baskets are passed around with the poorest and the richest all giving what they can. Churches are often the lifeblood of communities, often helping the less fortunate, rebuilding in the wake of disaster and offering a sense of belonging to those adrift.
So, perhaps I attended a different Sunday school lesson than those in our state legislature. Maybe I slept in on the day we covered discrimination against others. Surely I must have, because everything that I was taught growing up in the church directly refutes the nature of this bill. I was taught to love everyone, from a pauper to a prince, tax collectors or criminals, sinners or saints. I was taught that you should welcome everyone to your home and your dinner table. I was taught that no one should be turned away, no matter where you have come from, what you have done or what you believe.
Clearly, I have missed an important Sunday school lesson. I hope the legislature could give me its notes on what I missed so that I can see how a bill allowing discrimination is even a remotely good idea.
Or perhaps, I should give them my notes on the countless lessons I’ve been to that focused on love and acceptance.
Anna Rush is a third-year law student from Hattiesburg. She graduated from Mississippi State in 2011.