By / Apr 7

Earlier this week, Mississippi Gov. Phil Bryant signed into law an act that guarantees freedom of conscience on three specific beliefs about sexuality and marriage. Here is what you should know about the new law:

What is the name of the law?

The official name of the law is “Protecting Freedom of Conscience From Government Discrimination Act.”

What is the purpose of the law?

The stated intention of the law is to provide certain protections regarding a sincerely held religious belief or moral conviction for persons, religious organizations and private associations.

The law also defines what types of actions would be discriminatory by the state government under this act and outlines what remedies a person can assert against the state government for violations of this act.

What beliefs are protected by the act?

The three specific “sincerely held religious beliefs or moral convictions” protected by this act are the belief or conviction that:

• Marriage is or should be recognized as the union of one man and one woman;

• Sexual relations are properly reserved to such a marriage; and

• Male (man) or female (woman) refer to an individual's immutable biological sex as objectively determined by anatomy and genetics at time of birth.

(For the purposes of this article, the beliefs specifically protected under this act will be referred to as Protected Beliefs.)

What are discriminatory actions by the state government?

To prevent the state from punishing people and organizations because of their Protected Beliefs, the act includes a broad range of actions that would be considered “discriminatory actions” if taken by the state to punish citizens. For example, the state may not impose a fine, withhold a state-issued diploma or fire a state employee simply because they hold or express the Protected Beliefs.

What actions by religious organizations are protected by the act?

The law states that no person or agency affiliated with the state government may take “any discriminatory action against a religious organization” because they hold the Protected Beliefs.

The protected actions of religious organizations are:

• The organization cannot be forced to use their facilities or services to celebrate or solemnize weddings that violate their Protected Beliefs.

• The organization cannot be forced to make any employment-related decisions that violate their Protected Beliefs.

• The organization cannot be forced to make any decisions concerning the sale, rental, occupancy of or terms and conditions of occupying a dwelling or other housing under its control that violate their Protected Beliefs.

• The organization cannot be forced to make any decisions concerning adoption or foster care services that violate their Protected Beliefs.

What actions by persons are protected by the act?

Under this act “persons” includes a natural person, in his or her individual capacity, regardless of religious affiliation or lack thereof, or in his or her capacity as a member, officer, owner, volunteer, employee, manager, religious leader, clergy or minister; all religious organizations; businesses (whether sole proprietorship, or closely held company, partnership, association, organization, firm, corporation, cooperative, trust, society or other closely held entity); and cooperatives, ventures or enterprises comprised of two (2) or more individuals.

The protected actions of persons are:

• The state government cannot take discriminatory action against people granted custody of a foster or adoptive child, based solely on fact that the person intends to guide, instruct or raise a child in a manner consistent with the Protected Beliefs.

• The state cannot take discriminatory action against a person simply because that person establishes sex-specific standards or policies concerning employee or student dress or grooming, or concerning access to restrooms, spas, baths, showers, dressing rooms, locker rooms or other intimate facilities or settings, based their Protected Beliefs.

• The state cannot take discriminatory action against a person who refuses to provide the following goods or services based on their Protected Beliefs:

Photography, poetry, videography, disc-jockey services, wedding planning, printing, publishing or similar marriage-related goods or services, floral arrangements, dress making, cake or pastry artistry, assembly-hall or other wedding-venue rentals, limousine or other car-service rentals, jewelry sales and services, or similar marriage-related services, accommodations, facilities or goods.

What actions by state employees are protected by the act?

The protected actions of state employees are:

• The state cannot take discriminatory action against a state employee who lawfully speaks or engages in expressive conduct based on their Protected Beliefs, provided the speech is consistent with any other expression of a religious, political or moral belief or conviction allowed.

• State employees can be recused from having to authorize or issue marriage licenses if doing so forces them to violate their Protected Beliefs. (The person who is recusing himself or herself shall take all necessary steps to ensure that the authorization and licensing of any legally valid marriage is not impeded or delayed as a result of any recusal.)

• Judges, magistrates, justices of the peace or their deputies, may seek recusal from performing or solemnizing lawful marriages based upon or in a manner consistent with their Protected Beliefs.

Does this law protect individuals and religious organizations from actions taken by private individuals, companies or organizations?

No. This act merely prevents the state government from discriminating against an individual or organization because of the Protected Beliefs. It does not add any new restrictions on private agencies or individuals not associated with the state of Mississippi.

When does the law go into effect?

This act takes effect and will be in force on July 1, 2016.

By / Apr 1

This week, the Mississippi legislature opened the door for Governor Phil Bryant to assume a leading role in the effort to preserve rights of conscience and religious liberty in his state. HB 1523, which the Mississippi House passed earlier today, is a carefully crafted piece of legislation that will protect religious freedom and provide reasonable accommodations for persons holding traditional views on marriage and sexuality.[1] The “Protecting Freedom of Conscience from Government Discrimination Act” is an exemplary model for public policy and we strongly encourage Governor Bryant to lead on this issue by signing HB 1523 into law.

While state governments in New Mexico, Oregon, and Colorado have recently weakened religious liberty in these states, the Mississippi legislature has courageously acted to preserve rights of conscience for all Mississippians.[2] This bill strikes an important balance that recognizes the new realities created by the Supreme Court’s Obergefell decision—legalizing same-sex marriage nationwide—while offering reasonable accommodations for citizens whose sincerely held moral and religious beliefs remain opposed to such practices. As Ryan Anderson points out, HB 1523 was written to protect the civil liberties of people who believe:

“1) that marriage is the union of husband and wife, 2) that sexual relations are reserved for marriage, and 3) that our gender identity is based on our biology.”[3]

And what do such protections include? Consider the following examples.

It protects the rights of religious organizations by allowing each entity to determine its own criteria for solemnizing or participating in same-sex weddings. It also allows religious organizations to include shared belief among its criteria for considering potential candidates for hire.

It prevents the government from discriminating against healthcare professionals who hold beliefs that would prevent them from conducting sex-reassignment surgery or offering marriage counseling for same-sex marriages.

It preserves the right of government employees to retain their personal beliefs about marriage and sexuality by prohibiting the government from discriminating against them when “the employee's speech or expressive conduct occurs outside the workplace.”[4]

And inside the workplace? Again, Ryan Anderson notes, “Inside of work, it says the government can’t signal out these viewpoints for particular sanction—that employees must abide by common “time, place, and manner” regulations, but [places] no content restrictions on speech at work. It also says that a government employee may seek a recusal from issuing marriage licenses, provided they do it ahead of time and in writing, and provided they “take all necessary steps to ensure that the authorization and licensing of any legally valid marriage is not impeded or delayed.” A commonsense win-win outcome.”[5]

And as it relates to restrooms and changing facilities, the bill allows for businesses and organizations to determine such accommodations. It further guarantees that the state will not take any action to penalize those entities who grant access to these facilities based on biological sex. 

This is exactly the sort of legislation that has been desperately needed. The Mississippi legislature has taken great care to ensure that the civil liberties of all Mississippians will be protected by this bill. Though some will undoubtedly decry or castigate HB 1523 as discriminatory, it is actually the case that opposition to this bill is its own form of discrimination. The opposition to this bill is a clear demonstration that some LGBT activists and corporate interests are not interested in advancing the causes of liberty, tolerance, or plurality, but are instead committed to silencing the voice of religious citizens.

Mississippi has put forth perhaps the best post-Obergefell legislation to date. We commend the legislature for its work and voice our strong support for Governor Bryant to advance the cause of liberty by signing this bill into law.

 

[1] http://billstatus.ls.state.ms.us/documents/2016/pdf/HB/1500-1599/HB1523PS.pdf

[2] http://www.heritage.org/research/reports/2014/04/protecting-religious-liberty-in-the-state-marriage-debate

[3] http://dailysignal.com/2016/04/01/mississippi-moves-to-protect-religious-freedom-on-marriage/

[4] http://billstatus.ls.state.ms.us/documents/2016/pdf/HB/1500-1599/HB1523PS.pdf

[5] http://dailysignal.com/2016/04/01/mississippi-moves-to-protect-religious-freedom-on-marriage/

By / Nov 29

The continued good health of a Mississippi baby born with HIV causes Hannah Gay, the HIV specialist who treats the child, to speak of divine intervention.

The baby remains in remission more than 18 months after her last anti-viral treatment. "Hopefully we'll be able to find out what it was about this case that was different from all the others that we've ever seen and be able to replicate that for other babies in the future."

The 3-year-old's continued lack of any replication of the virus indicates the first documented case of HIV remission in a child, The New England Journal of Medicine reported Oct. 23, fostering renewed hope that the child is permanently cured.

"The big question, of course is, 'Is this child cured of HIV infection?'" the Journal article stated. "The best answer at this moment is a definitive 'maybe.'"

Gay, an associate professor of pediatric infectious diseases at the University of Mississippi Medical Center, was first credited in March with achieving a "functional" cure of the child, indicating the viral presence remained in the child but was no longer replicating. The viral presence was so low it could only have been detected by ultrasensitive methods, but not the standard clinical tests.

Gay treated the child, born to a mother who received no prenatal care, with an unprecedented, aggressive regimen of three anti-viral medications within 30 hours of birth three years ago. The mother discontinued treatment of the baby after 18 months, but when she returned the baby for treatment at 23 months tests revealed that the virus had not been replicating.

Gay has been in the spotlight for months because of the achievement. She presented a case study of the baby on Nov. 5 to the prestigious Oxford Union in England, a forum for debate and discussion at Oxford University which has hosted an array of notables, including world leaders, since 1823.

The case gives Gay opportunities to share in general terms her faith in God, she told Baptist Press, and is further maturing her as a Christian.

"I think He's teaching me submission with all of the speaking business. I don't particularly like that, but it is an opportunity for me to be able to say … when I treated this baby I was not even thinking of curing the baby. That was the furthest thing from my mind. I was simply trying to prevent infection and I failed at what I was trying to do," she said, seeing failure in her inability to keep the baby from being born HIV-positive. "However, my failure in God's hands turned into a miracle. And it was God that cured the baby and I just happened to be standing close by at the time."

The pediatrician, who served six years as a Baptist medical missionary in the Horn of Africa 20 years ago, said she doesn't know why God is using her for such a public task as breaking barriers in the cure of pediatric HIV.

"I still have no idea why He picked the shiest pediatrician in America to do this, but I suppose I'll find out in heaven," she said. "I am by basic nature very shy. And fortunately I have a husband [Paul Gay] who is very outgoing and well-spoken. So in most cases I depend on him to do the talking. But the problem is in this particular case, he's an accountant and he knows nothing about pediatric HIV disease."

She and her husband continue to teach Bible drill at Trace Ridge Baptist Church in Ridgeland, Miss. A sermon her pastor Steve Street delivered in March, shortly after Gay was credited with achieving the functional cure, reminded her of Moses' reticence for the spotlight.

"The first Sunday back when I went to church I found that my pastor was … just starting a series of sermons from Exodus. And on that first sermon he started preaching about the call of Moses, and God saying to Moses, 'What's that in your hand?' and Moses said, 'It's just a stick, God.'

"And then God proved to Moses that He can use just a stick to get water from a rock, or to part the Red Sea, or whatever. So with Moses protesting all along the way, 'God I can't talk,' God sent him anyway," Gay said.

"I have felt very much like that and I can't tell you that I'm happy with the idea of having to be the one on the speaker's stage all the time. I'm still not happy with it, but there have been a lot of things that I have learned," she said. "Yeah, I can't talk but God is providing words."

Still, she has welcomed venues in Mississippi, where she's using the platform to encourage prenatal care.

"I've been able here in Mississippi, in my own backyard, to really promote the prevention and get the message out there [that] all women need to get … prenatal care. They need to be tested for HIV during every pregnancy and, if positive, they need to be treated," Gay said. "So I'm giving the prevention message out here in Mississippi and that's something that I've wanted to do, because we're much more interested in preventing HIV rather than curing it."

Gay continues to monitor the child, whose identity has remained anonymous, and sends samples of the patient's blood to labs of her colleagues for ultrasensitive studies.

"I see the child on a regular basis, but several times a year I will be continuing to send samples of her blood to their research labs so that they can do these ultrasensitive tests," Gay said, "and in that way I'm better able to maybe get some early indication that, yeah, her virus may be getting ready to come back. And if that's the case, then I'll know to start medicines right away. But hopefully it's not going to happen."

Deborah Persaud, a virologist and pediatric HIV expert at Johns Hopkins Children's Center, is chairman of the cure committee of the International Maternal Pediatric Adolescent AIDS Clinical Trials Network that will conduct a trial in early 2014 to determine whether the early, aggressive treatment of pediatric HIV can be termed a cure.