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Mississippi Gov. Phil Bryant
Yes, Mississippi Gov. Phil Bryant is expected to sign this one.
Mississippi has been The Worst State about so many things over the years that it's hard to get worked up about it anymore, but its passage of an anti-LGBT "religious freedom" bill even after Arizona got its stately behind handed to it for a similar effort is, yes, still worth getting worked up over. The premise behind the Mississippi effort is to couch the legislatively designed free-ticket-to-discriminate in such generic and over-broad language that no court knows quite what to do with it.
What remains at the heart of Mississippi’s reworked bill is a dense proscription against “state action” that “burden[s] a person’s right to exercise of religion, even if the burden results from a rule of general applicability,” unless it’s “essential to further a compelling government interest” and “the least restrictive means” of furthering that interest. [...]

But read between the lines, and Mississippi’s bill has the potential to do exactly what the Romer amendment did: pre-empt any city or county from protecting LGBT people from discrimination. A landlord need only insist that renting to gay people “burden[s] [his] exercise of religion,” and a city ordinance banning anti-gay housing discrimination would be suddenly unenforceable. Every attempted protection for LGBT people would be rendered toothless in practice by the religious liberty defense, thus creating a regime of discrimination that looks strikingly similar to the Romer dystopia that the court so resoundingly rejected.

The law itself, then, is both meaningless drivel and an intentionally set courthouse time bomb. It's so generic as to be applicable to both anything and nothing; like nearly all of the other recent bills premised on religious freedom, it supposes that literally any law can be nullified by the sincere belief of any single citizen that the law should not apply to them (strong echoes of the "sovereign citizen" flimflam there, and probably not coincidental)—while at the same time asserting that oh, of course we do not mean it for those laws where the federal courts have given states like Mississippi a butt-reddening what-for on which of citizens' rights are not, in fact, optional.

Thus Mississippi can assert that its new law would not allow a landlord (or burger stand owner) to discriminate against black Americans because he believes black Americans to have been cursed by God, because that has already been explicitly nixed by the courts under the compelling interest standard, but a landlord (or burger stand owner) could freely discriminate against someone they believed to be A Gay, because hey, the damn courts haven't quite told us we couldn't. Not yet, anyway. It is a license to discriminate against and segregate literally any group that the state of Mississippi has not been previously explicitly barred from segregating and discriminating against.

Whether that makes the law a generic, toothless effort or a vicious one depends entirely on which sorts of people avail themselves of it. Generic language notwithstanding, the law was specifically crafted to allow Mississippi businesses and individuals to discriminate against LGBT Americans, so long as any given business cites the unchallengeable assertion that their personal sky-father had told them to; it is therefore almost certain that specific acts of discrimination against LGBT Americans will provoke the first legal challenges, and soon.

Mississippi officials have put themselves on record as supportive of those private segregation efforts, and has issued a direct challenge to the courts to stop them. Shades of the past, perhaps, but but shades that the Mississippi statehouse has proven ever-eager to refight.

Originally posted to Hunter on Wed Apr 02, 2014 at 11:47 AM PDT.

Also republished by LGBT Rights are Human Rights and Daily Kos.

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