Mississippi Religious Liberty Law Spells Problems for the State’s Public Colleges
For several months I have read of state legislatures that have passed laws that allow individuals employed in public sector agencies as well as private businesses to refuse service to gay men, lesbian women and transgender individuals on the grounds of religious liberty. I have not put the words religious liberty in quotes. I know that conservative politicians and voters take the phrase quite seriously.
The Mississippi law, passed this week by their state legislature, signed by their governor, is quite severe in its language. Most of the law pertains to same-sex relationships.
But this highlight concerns me:
The state government shall not take any discriminatory action against a state employee wholly or partially on the basis that such employee lawfully speaks or engages in expressive conduct based upon or in a manner consistent with a sincerely held religious belief or moral conviction.
I am not an attorney, but I have had to read legislation often. If I am reading this correctly, employees of the state university system may, based on their beliefs in religious liberty:
- Make discriminatory remarks in a classroom setting with no fear of reprisal from state government and/or the university administration;
- Refuse to allow students to attend classes or enter university facilities if they believe that the appearance of a person or their non-confrontational behavior offends them;
- Refuse to admit students who openly admit their sexuality on an admissions essay;
- Refuse to provide housing as well as meeting spaces to targeted groups;
- Refuse to aid students who have been bullied by other students because of their sexuality, whether real or perceived; and,
- Refuse to provide student services, including, but not limited to: counseling, career development, alumni relations, academic advising to students.
Such language can legitimately be interpreted to apply to anyone who might experience discrimination, not just members of one supposedly targeted community.
Any man or woman of any faith should be free to practice their religious beliefs, and share them with others, whether publicly through their church or religious organizations or privately. I suspect that others, conservative, moderate or liberal, share this belief. With respect to colleges and universities, public institutions should welcome students of all faiths and allow them to use facilities on a first-come, first-served based for religious activities when the organization cannot maintain their own. Their freedom to observe their faith should be protected by the college. This is all part of maintaining a campus community. I would also consider it to be religious liberty.
I would not want to send students to public colleges that are located in Mississippi as well as other states that would pass laws with the language shown above. But while I live in New Jersey and have not worked with students and families in Mississippi, I have to be concerned for those who do. And I have to hope that my home state and the neighboring states never let such legislation get beyond a single lawmaker’s mind.
I realize that I have offended those who support such legislation or have a different view on religious liberty than I do. However, I work in a world that takes college access, diversity and student success quite seriously. All of these things should take the highest priority at any college or university. The Mississippi law impedes all three for the public colleges and universities in the Magnolia State..