The latest alleged "anti-gay" bill has been passed in Mississippi. Governor Phil Bryant signed HB 1523, otherwise known as the "Protecting Freedom of Conscience from Government Discrimination Act,"into law. It recognizes heterosexual marriage, denounces fornication, defines a person's gender based on the anatomy they were born with, and allows religious organizations to deny accommodations and employment to individuals who violate these guidelines.

The specifics of HB 1523

Of all of the recent so-called "anti-gay" bills, HB 1523 is the strongest bill to date. While North Carolina's HB 2definesbathroom accommodations based on a person's birth gender and Kansas' SB175 allows college campus religious organizations to exclude individuals whose principles violate their faith, HB 1523 clearly defines marriage and a religious organizations right to exclude individualswithout actually using theterminology, lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgendered, or questioning (LGBTQ).

HB 1523 states that its purpose is "to provide certain protections regarding a sincerely held religious belief or moral conviction for persons, religious organizations, and private associations."

Gov. Bryant issued a statement via twitter explaining that he signed the bill to protect religious rights as defined by the First Amendment. For further proof of his strongly held religious beliefs, his official banner on his twitter page features thisquote from the governor,"I continue to believe this is the right time to stand for our beliefs -- our faith, our families, and our nation."

The First Amendment: two interpretations, two states

This bill and this governor are likely to draw comparisons to Gov. Nathan Dealof Georgia.

He is the polar opposite to Gov. Bryant. While Bryant calls on the First Amendment to protect the rights of religious organizations, Gov. Deal believes that the First Amendment is not a justification to exclude the LGBTQ community.These two opposing views are the very essence of this debate. Is it discrimination against the LGBTQ community to deny them access to a religious organization's accommodations or is it discrimination to force religious organizations to violate their deeply held beliefs in order to accommodate the LGBTQ community?

The First Amendment states, "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances." For religious organizations, homosexuality and fornication is a sin as defined by the Bible, and forcing them to accommodate the LGBTQ violates their freedom of speech and prohibits the free exercise of their faith.

Conversely, Gov. Deal stated, "If indeed our religious liberty is conferred by God and not by man-made government, we should need the 'hands off' admonition of the First Amendment to our Constitution."

As he interprets it, the First Amendment does not protect religious rights, rather God does, but if that's the case, why doesn't the First Amendment state God anywhere in its text? If anything, the freedom of speech argument could be made in favor of the LGBTQ community and the right to protest and peaceably assemble, but, as Deal puts it, government affords no protection to the religious community when the First Amendment clearly states that it does.

So again, this case comes down to how one interprets the first amendment in light of their personally held beliefs.

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