Why corporations are wrong about the Mississippi law (COMMENTARY)

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Welcome to Mississippi sign.

Photo courtesy of photo.ua via Shutterstock

Welcome to Mississippi sign.

(RNS) Big business can be accused of a lot of things, but having ineffective ad campaigns is not one of them. Which means it takes a savvy consumer to maintain independent judgment and make purchases based on her own criteria, not marketing spin.

Now the informed consumer needs to exercise that same discretion when encountering big business’ latest marketing campaign, not for a product, but for a pet political cause. Nowhere has corporate messaging been more high-pitched lately than in its efforts to stigmatize religious liberty bills and other common sense efforts to defuse the culture wars.

Citizens beware: Big business is trying to “rebrand” religious liberty as bigotry by distorting the facts about policies that draw strong support among Americans.

Consider the mischaracterization of a law just enacted in Mississippi. “(T)his legislation will permit discrimination against people based on their marital status, sexual orientation, or gender identity or expression,” said a statement from IBM. Similar comments came from Levi Strauss, MGM Resorts International and others.

Welcome to Mississippi sign.

Photo courtesy of photo.ua via Shutterstock

Welcome to Mississippi sign.

These vague accusations don’t reflect the actual text of Mississippi’s new “Protecting Freedom of Conscience from Government Discrimination Act.” What the new law does is to prevent discrimination by ensuring the government will not force people to violate their conscience in very specific contexts spelled out by the law.

For starters, Mississippi’s new law ensures that churches and other religious groups aren’t punished for declining to host or solemnize weddings that would violate their conscience. Remember the controversy over Kim Davis, the county clerk in Kentucky? Mississippi won’t have that kind of a showdown because the new law ensures everyone eligible for a marriage license gets one without delay while also accommodating individual clerks who want to opt out of issuing marriage licenses altogether.

Mississippi’s policy shows that we can coexist. Why would big business oppose that?

The law also ensures that religious schools and ministries serving those in need can continue to set their personnel and housing policies in accord with their beliefs. (This provision covers only religious organizations, not businesses. The law has nothing to do with business hiring or landlord policies.) Faith-based adoption agencies will be free to continue placing every child they serve with a married mom and dad.

While bakers, a photographer, and a florist in other states have faced massive fines, creative professionals in wedding-related businesses in Mississippi cannot be coerced to use their talents to celebrate same-sex weddings.

As communities grapple with gender identity questions, the new law allows private businesses and schools to set their own policies for the use of bathrooms, showers, and locker rooms. (PayPal announced plans to cancel an office expansion in North Carolina after that state passed a similar privacy protection measure — even though the law leaves them and other businesses free to make these policies however they see fit).

The bill guarantees that no one is denied emergency care or hospital visitation privileges.

Confusion around the new law seems to come from media coverage that fails to distinguish its protections for religious organizations  — which do not apply to businesses — from its much narrower policy concerning a handful of small businesses in a specific circumstance: wedding-related vendors in the context of participating in wedding ceremonies. The only provisions that apply to businesses generally are the assurances that private employers can set their own bathroom and employee dress policies based on their particular circumstances.

Most of the new law is about protecting religious groups and individuals who have a different perspective on marriage. It guarantees their religious freedom while not taking anything away from anyone else. Everyone deserves to be treated with dignity and respect regardless of differences.

Jennifer A. Marshall is vice president for the Institute for Family, Community, and Opportunity at The Heritage Foundation and senior research fellow at the Institute of Theology and Public Life at Reformed Theological Seminary in Washington, D.C. Photograph © David Hills, courtesy of Jennifer A. Marshall

Jennifer A. Marshall is a Heritage Foundation vice president and the Joseph C. and Elizabeth A. Anderlik Fellow in the think tank’s Institute for Family, Community, and Opportunity. Photograph © David Hills, courtesy of Jennifer A. Marshall

Citizens in Mississippi and elsewhere are looking for solutions that defuse cultural tension over issues of sexual orientation and gender identity. Polling showed Mississippians’ strong support (63 percent) for this legislation.

The corporate establishment’s campaign against these common sense policies disregards all that. Citizens would do well to see through the big business marketing blitz against religious liberty. This corporate messaging puts neither the common good nor constitutional principle first.

(Jennifer A. Marshall is a Heritage Foundation vice president and the Joseph C. and Elizabeth A. Anderlik Fellow in the think tank’s Institute for Family, Community, and Opportunity)


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  • Re: “What the new law does is to prevent discrimination …”

    Let me see if I got this straight. A law explicitly permitting people to discriminate, doesn’t allow discrimination … ? In what strange alternate universe does this make even the tiniest bit of sense? Folks must be smoking some pretty good stuff down there in Mississippi, if they actually believe such a thing can be true.

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  • CarrotCakeMan

    We can’t expect anti-gays to be honest about their attacks on LGBT Americans and the United States Constitution. Anita Bryant was dumped by the Florida Orange Juice people in the 1970s because her constant public lying about LGBT Americans destroyed her credibility and her ability to promote their product. Everything anti-gays have claimed over the years have been debunked as lies. Some, like “they choose to be gay” and “they are mentally ill” took many years to debunk. Sexual orientation, whether gay or non-gay, has been proven to be inborn and unchangeable. Psychologists have shown being gay or lesbian is just as healthy and “normal” as being non-gay. However, psychologists identified homophobia as a mental illness and published their results in the Journal of the National Institutes of Health in 1953.

  • CarrotCakeMan

    Ms. Marshall is engaging in what psychologists call “projection”:

    “Big business is trying to “rebrand” religious liberty as bigotry”

    No, anti-gays are trying to rebrand bigotry as “religious liberty.” Marshall lies about the text of the Hate Law:

    “The bill guarantees that no one is denied emergency care or hospital visitation privileges.”

    Wrong. ANY business may decline to provide basic life needs, including a hospital. A grocer or a pharmacist might be the only one in town, but would be able to deny food or medicine to LGBT Americans. Marshall lies about hospital visitation precisely because denying same gender partners such visits was commonplace in many US States.

  • CarrotCakeMan

    Marshall wrote:

    “While bakers, a photographer, and a florist in other states have faced massive fines”

    Perhaps Marshall means “Sweet Cakes by Melissa” in Oregon. The owners, the Kleins, attacked the same gender couple who tried to order a cake in writing. After that attack, the Kleins published the home address and other private information for the same gender couple at multiple anti-gay websites, inciting a Hate Crime against the couple and their child. The court fined the Kleins not just for violating Oregon law, but also for inciting the Hate Crime. The Kleins received “donations” totaling 3 times the fine, and even then, they only paid when authorities took action to collect their fine.

    Funny how anti-gays never discuss the fact all these bakers, florists, and such all have the same legal representation.

  • CarrotCakeMan

    All these anti-gay bakers, etc., are being incited to commit those crimes by one anti-gay Hate group, the Alliance Defending Freedom Of Faith. The attorneys from this Alliance are going to the 21 US States with laws that forbid discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation to incite anti-gay wedding service providers with existing LGBT customer bases to make these attacks and commit these crimes. The Alliance promises these anti-gays free legal representation and to pay all fines and costs BEFORE they commit those crimes, in the hope they can get these laws revoked.

    Want evidence? Here it is:


  • Gregory Peterson

    “What the new law does is to prevent discrimination by ensuring the government will not force people to violate their conscience in very specific contexts spelled out by the law.”

    Well…I’m not a lawyer (neither is Ms Marshall, once with the hate propaganda group, the Family Research Foundation).

    Section 2 of the act, for starters, expressly does not protect the sincerely held religious beliefs and moral convictions of those who believe that discriminating against LGBT people and couples is immoral. Those sincerely held religious beliefs aren’t recognized as such by Mississippi.

    Religious organizations are already protected from having to marry any couple they don’t want to marry, for any or no reason. They don’t need Mississippi’s protection. There are, after all, still churches which won’t marry interracial couples more than fifty years after the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

    Churches also don’t have to ordain female clergy, either.

  • Gregory Peterson

    The New Mexico photographer was ordered to pay $6,637.94 in attorney fees, according to CNN. State HR dept. aren’t really interested in fining businesses, I think. They’re interested in bringing a business into compliance with state law…but when a business refuses, what can you do?

    Albuquerque and NM passed anti-discrimination laws back when the Bible Belt was hunkering down to protect Jim Crow by most any means, including condoning terrorism.

    Us New Mexicans are just not use to hearing “We don’t serve your kind here.”

  • yoh

    Since when has upholding equal protection under the law been an attack on religion?

    You are discriminated against for not being as to deny people goods and services in a malicious manner? Hardly.

    But haters gotta hate. You can’t help it, right?

  • yoh

    Um, Ms . Marshall, its not big business leading the call in opposing MS’s new discrimination law, it’s people with common decency. Honest folk who don’t pretend religious freedom means a license to treat people like dirt.

    To be honest, big business would not care if not for the fact that such obvious discriminatory laws produce bad PR, make operations difficult and die hard bigots like yourself aren’t a significant enough market for them to care about.

  • Eric

    “Citizens beware: Big business is trying to “rebrand” religious liberty as bigotry by distorting the facts about policies that draw strong support among Americans.”

    I stopped reading after this because if she convinced herself this is a true statement, there is no lie she won’t tell.

  • shawnie5

    He also wants to lie about the Sweet Cakes case. Not sure why this particular misrepresentation is so persistent — probably because even the crybullies are embarrassed by the silliness of the damages claimed.

  • S. Keegan

    Don’t like discrimination? Don’t discriminate, simple as that. In the meantime, quit forcing your totalitarian morality on a population that, by and large, already agrees to cater to anyone.

  • russell leisenheimer

    quote>>>religious liberty bills and other common sense efforts to defuse the culture wars.

    says the person fighting the culture wars…. up is down, etc

  • Greg

    >>> What the new law does is to prevent discrimination by ensuring the government will not force people to violate their conscience in very specific contexts spelled out by the law.

    Sure, think, for example, of the people who as a matter of conscience do not want to free their slaves, pay the minimum wage, serve food to Mormons, sell cars to atheists, or use clean medical instruments. The rights of these individuals must be protected….

  • yoh

    Except for the fact that it transpired exactly as described. Anyone willing to claim denying goods and services in a commercial or government setting is an expression of religious freedom is not going to represent facts in an honest fashion.

    Nobody really believes these bills/laws have anything to do with religious freedom. Not even his advocates. It’s all about trying to get in some kind of attack on gays now that discriminatory laws banning marriage equality were shot down.

  • Garson Abuita

    The Kleins were fined by the court for the denial of service, not for publishing the spurned customers’ personal info.

  • Shawnie5

    I’m talking about what the commissioner’s ruling expressly stated, Einstein. Did you actùally read it, or just repeat what you heard third-hand?

  • Garson Abuita

    Many people, even those sympathetic to the LGBT community, questioned the seemingly large award in this case, emotional distress etc. Raw Story then published an article with the claim that the Kleins were actually fined in that amount for releasing the complainants’ personal information (Aaron Klein did, in fact, publish the complaint on Facebook and did not redact their names and addresses). A cursory reading of the tribunal’s decision by a non-lawyer could have led to Raw Story’s conclusion. This article was shared widely, before law blogs like The Volokh Conspiracy picked up the story and sorted it out: the human rights agency wanted them to be fined for this, but the tribunal held the denied-service award was adequate compensation. The Raw Story article later put a correction out, but it was too late.

  • Indy-TX

    You got it, man. Your hate and theophobia are overwhelming.

    You say that this is a fraudulent law. I don’t think you recognize fraudulent laws. Do some digging? Why do you think so much sweat and attention has been invested by media in “gay marriage” laws? You really think so many people are care more about the <3% of the population it affects that its due all this attention? Wake up. Look at the rulings and laws that are being passed in favor of the political and industrial elite that slam poor and middle class citizens. But most of us don't see those, even though they have much more profound impact on much higher percentage of our population. Why not? Because we're distracted by these stories promoted by the elites.

    "Gay marriage" and the backlash are both artificial issues. Or, are you one of the elite trying to pile on the confusion?

  • Jay

    No. You and your fellow travelers are the ones who are attempting to “rebrand” religious liberty into a license to discriminate. The federal courts will certainly find the Mississippi law unconstitutional, the same way the courts found laws that Mississippi and other states passed in the wake of the 1964 Civil Rights Bill. Those laws attempted to use “religious views” as a reason to allow businesses to discriminate on the basis of race, just as the current bill allows “sincerely held religious views” to serve as a license to discriminate against gay and lesbian people, as well as others. IN other words, Jennifer A. Marshal, you are a liar.

  • “Nobody really believes these bills/laws have anything to do…”

    Maybe you haven’t talked to enough people. You really think there’s a vast conspiracy to pass bills to attack gays because of a ruling that gays can’t be “discriminatory” marriage laws were show down? Very, very few people cared that much to bother. You’re imagining it. I know, that’s what the power elites have told us, though, and they wouldn’t lie to you, would they? And people looking for political power and looking for someone to demonize (on either side of the issue) wouldn’t try to mislead you and appropriate your support, would they?

  • Carrot Cake Man has this bigot Marshall pegged perfectly. She is blinded by her own opinion.

  • Khadijah

    What strikes me about all these cases–defending businesspeople who decline to serve particular classes of people, the “bathroom bills”–is the unfairness of singling out LGBTs. Well, no duh–but what I mean is that a strictly religious business person probably already serves all kinds of clientele whose behavior he disapproves of–he just doesn’t know. And the bathroom bills will have little impact on sexual predators, who I believe are overwhelmingly straight.

  • Shawnie5

    “a strictly religious business person probably already serves all kinds of clientele whose behavior he disapproves of–he just doesn’t know”

    Of course. No one objects to the person but to the event.

  • Barry the Baptist

    We should just avoid selling anything to each other: that way, nobody runs the risk of being complicit in the sin of anybody else. “If your right hand causes you to sin…” and all that…

    That will also reign in all of the physical, verbal, professional, and social abuse that is directed towards those sinful “events.” This also had the added benefit of cutting down on court cases filed due to assault on “events,” or defamation of “events,” or discrimination against “events.”

    This is a fantastic solution. We can’t lose!

  • yoh

    YES! It ain’t that vast either. “Social Conservatives” are using this nonsense as a way to drum up votes in an election year. Appealing to bigotry has always been a winning plan for bible thumpers and conservatives in general.. After all, the Religious Right came out of the people still trying to keep segregation going long after the fact.
    In fact this behavior parallels what racists were doing after Brown v. Board of Ed.

    Anyone with even a grade school knowledge of what religious freedom means smells this nonsense for what it is. So no I don’t believe even you think that is the real purpose here. I think people who support this stuff are full of it.

  • yoh

    A total load of equine effluvia!

    People do it for the malicious pleasure of turning away people they do not like and receiving social sanction for doing so through religion. The whole point of such laws is to demean and attack gays.

  • Diogenes

    In the Klein’s case, they had no objection to serving gays as a regular daily part of their business, their only objection arose when asked to provide a cake for a wedding ( a sacramental event closely linked in Christian practice to obedience towards the will of God and His stipulated precepts for marriage as defined in scripture). However dismayed their putative customers were, named or not named, their complaint reflects an equal if not greater spirit of intolerance, including the lack of appreciation for the legitimately held beliefs of other people. Characterize it as hate if you will, it merely demonstrates a complete misunderstanding on your part of distinction and objective discrimination that harms no one except in their feelings. And hey, we all get our feelings hurt daily…move past it; someone else would surely supply the cake without a thought…problem solved. Move on people, nothing to see here.

  • Indy-TX

    Then there’s no use continuing to discuss this. You’re projecting your motives on those who don’t share them, and I’ve got lots more than a grade school education. Though I don’t doubt that, in your heart, you believe it’s all true. And someone on the other side can substitute Left for Right and make the identical claims that you have(and I’ve heard many that do).

  • Garson Abuita

    The customers in the Sweet Cakes by Melissa case were having a commitment ceremony, not a wedding, as the latter was not yet legal in Oregon. So for the bakers to say that they see marriage as a sacrament should have been irrelevant. Also, it raises the question, did they object to providing cakes for other weddings that did not adhere to their view of a proper wedding as being a sacrament linked to obedience of God’s will? Certainly, a Jewish wedding, an interfaith wedding, an atheist wedding, a wedding held at city hall, might not be “sacramental” in their view. So once again we’re left with the question: why is this view about gay couples entitled to privilege under the law?

  • Ben in oakland

    It’s very telling that the ONLY place that these “sincere religious beliefs” ever get expressed is when a certain class of so called Christian is required to behave decently, politely, and without any kind of animus or wholly imaginary superiority towards gay people.

    Serving the likes of Kim Davis or newt Gingrich certainly doesn’t bother them.

    Their delicate consciences don’t seem to be bothered at all by demon worshipping Hindus or God rejecting atheists.

    It’s also very telling that these laws excuse the bad behavior of the holy-Hokies, but could actually be deemed somewhat fair if they included a public sign by cash registers, in front windows, and on websites about who these so called Christian would refuse service to, and why. But then, these laws aren’t really about protecting the delicate consciences of these religious people, but protecting their income.

    What may well come out of this is the opposite effect, because the Internet is everywhere.

  • yoh

    You want to pretend the concept of equal protection under the law doesn’t exist so be it, but reality demonstrates otherwise. I recognize laws which are blatantly discriminatory by their nature. It makes no difference how popular a measure is if it attacks civil liberties. Might makes right is not a legal principle of our laws. Majority rules only to the extent it does not attack rights of political minorities.

    Bigotry and reactionary religion are chief ways politically powerful get poor and working classes riled up to vote for people who attack their economic interests.

  • yoh

    If you are going to continue with such dishonest rhetoric, I see no need to to continue either. Keep pretending corporate interests have anything to do with upholding concepts of equal protection. It was ridiculous when the author made the point, doubling down on it doesn’t make it more credible.

  • PJA

    Nope – the general public support this law wholeheartedly. It IS big business and their threats that are the major opposers of this law. I reckon if this law where up to the people for a popular vote – it would win hands down.

  • yoh

    Every discriminatory law is passed by majority will. It makes it no less pernicious nor constitutional. Repeating the author’s obvious 1ie does not make it true.

    Corporations are feeling pressure from moral decent folk who object to such garbage bills. If not for the economic fallout involved with such discriminatory laws, they would show little concern.

    The premise of the article doesn’t even make the slightest sense. Corporate America is not monolithic or even overtly political beyond their own interests. Why would it be in their interests? Because more people are outraged over this than in support.

    The author’s argument about as half baked, dishonest and p00Rly conceived as every other argument in defense of this sectarian based discrimination.

  • CarrotCakeMan

    Correct, Indy-Tx, there is no point in your spamming this or any other comment board with those same old anti-gay lies.

  • CarrotCakeMan

    PJA, you claim “the general public” supports attacks on LGBT Americans–do you mean nationwide? Wrong:

    “As states across the country prepare for legislative battles around LGBT nondiscrimination and religious exemption laws, a new report released today finds that seven in ten (71 percent) Americans—including majorities in all 50 states and 30 major metropolitan areas— support laws that would protect gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender people from discrimination in jobs, housing, and public accommodations.

    The landmark survey was conducted by the nonpartisan Public Religion Research Institute as part of its 2015 American Values Atlas. The survey, based on more than 42,000 interviews conducted between May 2015 and early January 2016, explores Americans’ attitudes on same-sex marriage, nondiscrimination laws for LGBT people, and religious exemptions to those laws.”


  • CarrotCakeMan


    Thank you. You are protecting your own Freedom Of Religion as well. Who would anti-gays attack next?

  • CarrotCakeMan

    Sorry, Diogenes, the Kleins only objected when their new free lawyers pointed out to them how much money they could make by breaking the law. What makes you think we don’t know this “Alliance” is behind ALL these anti-gay lawbreakers?

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