A Mississippi religious group is waging an email campaign urging church members to lobby on behalf of a “religious freedom” bill critics contend would allow for discrimination against members of the LGBT communities.
The email from the Christian Action Commission, obtained by The Raw Story Friday afternoon, states in part, “Ask your minister to ask people in the pew this Sunday and all next week and the following Sunday for church members to contact and tell their MS Representaive to support the the MS Religious Freedom Restoration Act.”
However, the email appears to encourage churches to engage in political lobbying on behalf of the bill. The Internal Revenue Service (IRS) states that organizations listed as 501c(3) tax-exempt groups may not engage in partisan campaigning, though IRS guidelines do not explicitly mention legislation under that rule.
The bill, known in the state legislature as SB 2681, would mandate that that state law “shall not substantially burden a person’s right to exercise [freedom] of religion” without a “compelling governmental interest.” The bill was passed by the Republican-heavy state Senate in January, and was amended to take out language seen as too similar to Arizona’s infamous SB 1062. The state House is reportedly studying the bill further.
“I think what will happen is, they’re not going to be able to write this bill,” Jackson business owner and LGBTQ activist Eddie Outlaw told Raw Story in a phone interview Friday evening. “Religious protections already exist; it is the law of the land. It’s complicated in Mississippi because the legislation refers to ‘people,’ and ‘people’ has already been defined in Mississippi as businesses, corporations. It opens the door for all kinds of tomfoolery from them. I’m hopeful they’ll just figure out they’re chasing their tail and wasting time and money. There’s no good end for that legislation except for it to just die.”
The commission’s email also claims that the American Civil Liberties Union “and the homosexual lobby [are] attacking Mississippian’s [sic] religion and liberty.” Christian Action’s leader, Jimmy Porter — himself a Baptist minister — also emailed lawmakers separately dismissing opponents’ arguments that the bill amounts to legalized prejudice.
“When I hear someone speak of being discriminated against who has never been told to go to the back of the bus, who has never seen a loved one hanging from a tree by a rope, who has never been served a plate lunch from the back door of a restaurant, who has never been denied lodging in a hotel, who has had to drink from a fountain or use a restroom with a posted ‘Colored Only’ sign, who has never been denied access to the community swimming pool, all due to the God-given color of their skin, desecrate the word when it comes out of their mouth,” he reportedly wrote.
But as Raw Story reported earlier this month, not only has the ACLU voiced its disagreement with SB 2681, but so have local college communities and clergy members.
For his part, Outlaw, who has operated his business for 17 years alongside his partner, took issue with the argument from supporters of the bill that it would protect business owners, saying it would create more problems than it purports to solve.
“As a business person, I just think it’s utterly ridiculous to deny goods or services to anyone,” Outlaw said. “It’s just bad business. [There is] this ridiculous thinking that we need to be protected because we exercise our strongly-held religious beliefs. I don’t really think that there’s gonna be this scourge of gays looking bring up lawsuits to shut these businesses down. What’s gonna happen is, the word’s gonna get out through social media [and] reporting, and people are gonna see it for what it is, which is hateful bigotry.”
Raw Story emailed the commission seeking comment on the email campaign.
[Image: “Go Forward Believing The Word,” via Shutterstock]