Late this afternoon our often-slighted neighbors to the east in Mississippi are expected to send a so-called religious freedom bill to their governor. Governor Phil Bryant now faces a decision that Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson had to make last year.
Arkansas enacted something like the Mississippi bill last year but it only received the governor's signature after some last minute amendments were drawn up to appease a corporate uproar from a wide range of companies from Apple and NASCAR concerned about discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity. Gov. Hutchinson promoted the moderating amendments after previously giving support to the original piece of legislation, unmodified.
The arguments in Mississippi are the same ones heard in Arkansas. NPR's Camila Domonoske sums it up, "supporters say the law protects the religious freedom of those opposed to homosexuality. Opponents say the law amounts to a state sanction of discrimination against LGBT people."
Domonoske's report notes that the religious freedom to discriminate based on sexuality and gender identity already exists in Mississippi - as it does in Arkansas - for areas such as employment and housing.
"In Mississippi, as in 27 other states, it's already legal to fire people or refuse to lease them property because of their sexuality."
But Mississippi's bill which allows state employees to refuse to issue same-sex marriage licenses among other things goes farther than Arkansas's religious freedom law, which was amended to more closely reflect the much more limited federal Religious Freedom and Restoration Act, passed in the early 90s.
The Human Rights Campaign, one of the best funded and organized LGBT advocacy groups, is in Jackson today to push against the will of the Republican-controlled government. HRC launched a media and protest blitz in Arkansas too, last Spring.
Georgia's Republican Governor Nathan Deal vetoed a religious liberty bill passed in his state legislature last week. The National Conference of State Legislators lists 17 states with religious freedom bills derived, in some way, from the federal act. It's not all Southern, but most of the South partakes.