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UPDATE: Manufacturers Assoc. latest to oppose state’s anti-gay bill

Republican Gov. Phil Bryant, center, walks behind his spokesman, Clay Chandler, left, as reporters ask him if he will sign a bill that would let government employees and private businesses cite religious beliefs to deny services to same-sex couples who want to marry, following a news conference on a youth jobs program at the Capitol in Jackson, Miss., Friday, April 1, 2016. Bryant would not say whether he will sign House Bill 1523, noting he had not received it yet and would need to study it first. Chandler tried to block reporters from asking questions by saying repeatedly: "Not today. Not today." (AP Photo/Rogelio V. Solis)

Republican Gov. Phil Bryant, center, walks behind his spokesman, Clay Chandler, left, as reporters ask him if he will sign a bill that would let government employees and private businesses cite religious beliefs to deny services to same-sex couples who want to marry, following a news conference on a youth jobs program at the Capitol in Jackson on April 1, 2016. Bryant would not say whether he will sign House Bill 1523, noting he had not received it yet and would need to study it first. Chandler tried to block reporters from asking questions by saying repeatedly: “Not today. Not today.” (AP Photo/Rogelio V. Solis)

By TED CARTER

The 2,100-member Mississippi Manufacturers Association late Monday joined the Mississippi Economic Council in denouncing a so-called religious freedom bill that has caused an uproar statewide since the Legislature passed it last week.

Their denunciations have followed similar condemnations from major Mississippi employers such as Nissan, Toyota, Ingalls Shipbuilding, MGM Resorts and Casinos and such national companies as AT&T.

The high-octane controversy comes from a belief by supporters that religious faith has been under attack nationally since last summer’s Supreme Court ruling upholding same-sex marriage. The best defense, supporters say, is House Bill 1523, a measure that lets court clerks and businesses invoke religious faith and moral convictions to refuse service to gay people and others.

As opposition grew Monday afternoon, Gov. Phil Bryant found himself stuck between hugely disappointing Mississippi’s business leaders or encountering the wrath of his evangelical and culturally conservative base.

The Manufacturers Association opposition statement zeroed-in on economic development — one of Bryant’s prized endeavors.

“We have seen the negative attention that Georgia and North Carolina have received on this issue and have now seen the attention shift towards Mississippi,” the organization said. ” MMA fears that future economic development opportunities will be jeopardized if HB 1523 is signed into law.”

The legislation could set back recent successes in portraying Mississippi as a tolerant state, the  Manufacturers Association said in closing its statement. “MMA respectfully calls on the Legislature to reconsider their stance on HB 1523 and for Gov. Phil Bryant to veto this bill before it causes any more harm to Mississippi’s image,” it said.

The MMA emphasized that the measure is “in direct opposition to many of our member industry’s policies and beliefs regarding diversity and inclusivity.”

The tight spot in which Bryant has found himself comes courtesy of a Republican super majority in the House and the party’s tightened grip on the Senate after the November 2015 elections.

A veto last week got Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal out of a squeeze his Legislature put him in by passing a bill similar to Mississippi’s. But unlike Bryant, Deal is said to have no political aspirations after his final term expires in 2018.

HB 1523 got a green light to Bryant Friday after the House concurred with a version the Senate approved Wednesday night.

Toyota employs about 2,000 people at its Mississippi plant in Blue Springs. MGM Resorts owns the Beau Rivage Resort and Casino in Biloxi.

The MEC said in a statement Saturday from Blake Wilson, the organization’s CEO, that HB 1523 conflicts with the policies of the MEC’s business members by limiting diversity and inclusion.

“As the State Chamber of Commerce for a state that has proven its hospitable and business-friendly approach, MEC opposes efforts that would intentionally or unintentionally prevent Mississippi businesses from implementing and enforcing non-discrimination policies or that would limit diversity and inclusion impacting their customers and employees,” said the MEC, which has 11,000 members from 1,100 member businesses.

“HB 1523 conflicts with this policy,” the State Chamber said.

Nissan, employer of nearly 6,000 people at its Canton manufacturing plant, was the first major Mississippi jobs provider to take a stand against  the so-called “Freedom of Conscience” bill that landed on the governor’s desk after winning approval in both houses of the Legislature by large margins.

Nissan says it is especially concerned that the legislation will allow discrimination against its workers in Mississippi.

In a statement from the Japanese automaker’s North American headquarters in Franklin, Tenn., the company said: “Nissan is committed to providing our employees with an inclusive workplace environment that supports diversity.  It is Nissan’s policy to prohibit discrimination of any type, and we oppose any legislation that would allow discrimination against lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender individuals.”

MGM Resorts said it can’t support the “Freedom of Conscience” bill and fears not only its business will be hurt but businesses across the state as well.  ” We respect the diversity of our employees, guests and people in our communities.  Laws that permit businesses to decline to provide services to individuals because of this diversity result in decreased tourism and hurt the local economy,” MGM Resorts said.

Toyota did not specifically mention the legislation, but said it “does not condone discrimination in any form and believes that inclusive treatment of all people is good for the workplace, marketplace and society as a whole.  In our experience, the best ideas come when everyone is equally engaged and valued.”

Though a cheerleader for a “religious liberty” bill in 2014. Bryant has not yet indicated whether he will sign HB 1523. He will review it, said  Bryant spokesman Clay Chandler in a recent email.

The legislation would have gone straight on to Bryant had the Senate not agreed to an amendment from Judiciary A Committee Chair Sean Tindell. The amendment reinstated a sovereign immunity provision that would prevent churches, faith groups, businesses and others from suing the state for failing to provide the protections specified in the bill.

The opposition of the state’s businesses has developed far slower than did opposition to similar legislation last month in Georgia. Gov. Nathan Deal’s veto last week followed high-profile opposition from Coco-Cola, Delta Airlines and film production companies such as Disney and Marvel.

Wilson and the MEC voiced concerns in 2014 during debate over the bill that would have allowed businesses to refuse service to gay people for religious reasons. That legislation eventually was reworked to mirror the federal “Religious Freedom Restoration Act” Congress enacted in 1993. The federal and now Mississippi laws prevent government from substantially burdening a person’s exercise of religion.

The 2016 bill, with its attention to wedding service providers, seems more narrow than the one two years ago, according to Wilson.

“While it seems that the current proposed bill does not appear to have the broad application on business operations that the 2014 bill had, we currently are consulting with counsel to confirm,” Wilson said in the email.

Some interpretations of HB 1523 have described it as narrowly written and limited in the businesses and groups to which it would apply.  The American Civil Liberties Union of Mississippi said its conclusion is that while the legislation specifically mentions wedding-service providers, its provisions would allow any business to refuse service to same sex-couples or anyone else based on religious faith or moral convictions.

Just ahead of Wednesday night’s vote, senators by a wide margin rejected an amendment that would require court clerks and businesses that intend to refuse service to a category of people must post a sign in a visible place stating this.

House Bill 1523, dubbed the “Protecting Freedom of Conscience from Government Discrimination Act” by House Speaker Philip Gunn and its seven co-sponsors, passed the Senate Judiciary A Committee last week after sailing through the House on an 80-39 vote.

Gunn has said he wrote the bill in response to the brief jailing of Kentucky court clerk Kim Davis for refusing to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples after the Supreme Court ruled such marriages legal. HB 1523 would allow clerks and other staff to refuse to sign marriage licenses based on their religious beliefs or moral convictions. The bill specifies clerks and staffers must find someone in the office willing to sign the license, but it leaves uncertain how a same-sex marriage could be made official if all employees in a clerk’s office declined to issue a license.

Sen. Jenifer Banning, a newly elected Republican from Philadelphia who presented the bill, assured questioners a solution was available. She said during debate that a court clerk who refuses to issue a license to a same-sex couple must either find a deputy willing to issue the license or hire someone to do so.

If it is too much of an imposition to hire an extra staffer who is willing to issue the licenses, the clerk should reconsider staying in the post, said Banning, a lawyer.

Questioners said they see nothing in the bill that would force a clerk to do this.

Meanwhile, Tyson spokesman Worth Sparkman said it values religious freedom but opposes legislation that allows discrimination. “Our core values call on us to be respectful of each other and our policies prohibit unlawful harassment and discrimination in the workplace involving race, religion, color, age, national origin, veteran status, disability, genetics information, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity, or other protected status under federal, state, or local law,” Sparkman said.

 

 

 

 

 

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34 comments

  1. So proud of Gov. Phil Bryant!!

    • Im from Mississippi & wont set footback that special hell EVER AGAIN! The rest of the country mocks you. Youre too stupid to understand that pride in ignorance is ridiculous. But yall keep putting these fools in office& keep wasting that taxpayer money ya aint got. Have fun being poor!

    • We have a good, courageous Governor. Thank you Gov. Bryant

  2. This guy is an idiot and the minute this crap of a law gets passed it will go to the courts and the state of Mississippi will lose as usual! Just continue to take our state backwards! Only backwards thinking people are proud of this grand wizard of a governor!

    • Thank you. The governors of GA and VA were able to kill these bills–all probably exactly alike and written by ALEC. But you can bet Philbilly will be there with 20 pens to give to his evangelical rip-off (steal from the poor, Jesus loves that) buddies. Meanwhile, he sent his gay son to Texas so that no one could use the boy for a poster child.

  3. “Sen. Jenifer Banning” should be “Sen. Jenifer B. Branning.” Please update so we know who to call and complain to.

  4. Yet just this week I learned that Nissan’s Canton plant is refusing entry to other groups due to their Constitutionally-protected civil rights, which Nissan doesn’t like.

  5. This bill is neither pro business or pro people. I hope the governor stands up for both.

  6. From Confederate flags to discriminatory laws, Mississippi just keeps on sliding backward while the world passes us by. Even more disturbing is our esteemed governor and legislative leaders appear determined to cement our image as a state of perpetual hate and bigotry.

    We are losing young, educated, Mississippians in droves. In fact, we are the only southern state with a net loss in population over the past 5 years.

    I’m tired of being embarrassed.

  7. Ironic we as Christians are allowing anyone to be discriminated against.

    Regardless of our sin, Jesus would never condone casting someone aside. He used uncommon characters in the Bible to spread the message of the Gospel. This is the opposite of the gospel. Religious based (church), fine. Business – that’s different. We’re conservative, yet we want more laws to govern folks we don’t agree with. Sounds hypocritical of conservatism.

  8. Of course big business objects. Any time big business can create dissension within the ranks of labor, management maintains the upper hand against labor.

  9. Mississippi is a great state. I am proud to be a Mississippian. I urge the Governor to sign the bill. I urge the people of Mississippi to keep the flag. Let the carpetbaggers and scalawags leave. We will be better for it.

    • Please also send all of that Federal money Mississippi sucks up back to Washington. Everyone can leave, but support yourself. You don’t need anyone, fine; give the money back.

    • I visited your state on vacation and had a great time. Was just looking at coming back for some golf.

      If you pass this bill, I’ll never spend another dime in your state again. I’m not gay, just a human being. Please secede from the U.S. so we can invade you and destroy the hatred you have built up over 150 you backwards Confederate losers.

    • What a shame that Mississippi’s Governor has just perpetuated the image of Mississippi as uneducated, bigoted, and poor. Isn’t it ironic that your state gets far more from the federal government in money than it pays in (in contrast to more tolerant and wealthy “donor” states like CA, WA, MA, and NY. And yet so many of you hate and revile the President of the U. S. and refuse to follow federal laws.

      Many people were wondering how to boycott your state, but you have so few corporate headquarters of any size and certainly almost zilch high tech and creative businesses, there is nothing for the rest of us to boycott. I’m urging all my friends and relatives not to go to Biloxi for gambling and recreation however.

  10. The legislature can’t get ONE of 20 flag bills to the floor for debate, but they can pass this foolishness in both houses.

    Is there any wonder why Mississippi has such a bad national image?

  11. How do smaller businesses openly protest the bill alongside the corporate giants?

  12. Who gets discriminated against if a homosexual couple wants to get married at a Baptist church or any church that looks at God’s Word and believes that marriage is between a natural born woman and natural born man? The homosexual couple says they are because they cannot get married at that church! If the church is forced to marry the couple, the religious rights of the church is discriminated against.
    Were the people of the states that voted into law that marriage was between a man and a woman and against homosexual marriage discriminated against when the Supreme court ruled that the voters cannot govern themselves so we must overturn their law. This law the Gov. is signing is to protect the religious belief of people and institutions that disagree with homosexuality. It doesn’t mean that the business’ will put up signs that say homosexuals or LGBT’s not welcome. It just gives the business the right to refuse business if the business owners feels that their beliefs are being trampled on. If the homosexual does not like it, go to another business. Just like I am told all the time, don’t like what is on TV, change the channel. I did, I got rid of TV.

  13. Interesting how the Anti-Christian groups and individuals (ACLU, LGBT, SPLC etc…).. aka the real bullies… scream all day long about rights and freedoms. Meanwhile 2000 years of Christian faith and over 6000 years of Judeo-Christian law have no rights according to these real haters.

    Why should I be forced to compromise my faith to only very recent non-biblical interpretations of marriage and gender? The same bullies will force churches, synagogues, mosques etc. to hire transgender people and perform same sex weddings. The LGBT bullies would want nothing more than Christian churches forced to use transgender greeters, all gender bathrooms and men dressed as women in the childcare. If you don’t believe it, it is already happening in Canada… Please… Let the blind carry on with your gnashing of teeth… Stand Strong Mississippi

  14. And by the way, why doesn’t Toyota and Nissan stick to making cars and earnings for the stockholders. When did these businesses decide they now need to be social policy purveyors… And hey Tyson.. what about PETA and chicken rights, or vegetarian rights or raise minimum wage rights. I suggest before you start throwing rocks from a glass house you consider sticking to doing what you do best… killing chickens

    Goodbye Tyson… hello Sanderson Farms….

  15. Christian Heterosexual female republican who is BEGGING to NOT SIGN THIS BILL!

    I am ashamed of my state.

  16. Homosexuality is a sin and will never be right. It’s a crime against nature and natures God.

    • That may be your opinion about homosexuality, Mr. Buck, and you are free to have it. Many deeply religious people feel quite the contrary. Even assuming homosexuality is a sin, should everyone who has sinned (adulterers like the AL Governor, most of you, pregnant without marriage etc.) not be treated the same by civil government. One of the things that has made the U. S. great is not having one’s religious beliefs (or lack of belief) subject to any governmental test.

      I see where the Mayor of Portland Oregon today refuses to come to the christening of the USS Portland because he won’t step foot in Mississippi until the law is lifted. Check out the per capita income, quality of life, and health of citizens of enlightenedplaces like Portland, Oregon compared to Missippi. It might be a lesson.

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