Concurrent with their examination of North Carolina’s anti-LGBT law, at least four federal agencies are conducting a review of the recently enacted “religious freedom” law in Mississippi seen to enable sweeping anti-LGBT discrimination, the Washington Blade has learned.
Spokespersons for the Departments of Transportation, Health & Human Services, Education and Housing & Urban Development have said their agencies are reviewing HB 1523, which was signed by Mississippi Gov. Phil Bryant into law on Tuesday and allows individuals, businesses and non-profits to refuse services and employment to LGBT people under state law in the name of religious freedom.
Cameron French, a HUD spokesperson, said, “We are aware of the Mississippi law and reviewing.”
A Department of Transportation spokesperson said, “We’re aware of the Mississippi law and reviewing it.”
Jonathan Gold, an HHS spokesperson, said after acknowledging the review of the North Carolina statute “a similar review is taking place with the Mississippi law.”
Dorie Nolt, a spokesperson for the Department of Education, said, “We’re aware of the Mississippi law, and we are reviewing it.”
The spokespersons declined to offer additional information to the Blade on the nature of these reviews and the timeline for when they’d be be complete. Because of the nature of HB 1523, the review of the law may be same kind of investigation that could potentially in a loss of federal funding for North Carolina over House Bill 2.
Critics say Mississippi’s HB 1523, considered the most sweeping “religious freedom” law in the nation, would allow discrimination against single mothers, same-sex couples, transgender people, and children, such as denying them housing in homeless shelters, transition-related medical care or employment. Moreover, critics say the bill would authorize conversion therapy for LGBT young people in foster care.
Meanwhile, North Carolina’s HB 2 prohibits cities from enacting pro-LGBT non-discrimination ordinances and transgender people from using public restrooms in schools and government buildings consistent with their gender identity. Because the law outright requires discrimination against transgender people, critics say it contravenes equal protection under the U.S. Constitution as well as gender non-discrimination protections under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972.
As previously reported, at least five federal agencies – the Departments of Transportation, Health & Human Services, Labor, Housing & Urban Development and Education — are reviewing HB 2 to determine if it’ll result in a loss of federal funds for North Carolina. The Departments of Labor hasn’t responded to repeated requests to comment on whether that agency is also reviewing the Mississippi law.
The White House declined to comment on the reviews of the Mississippi law. On Tuesday, White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest told the Washington Blade the Mississippi seems “mean-spirited,” but deferred to individual agencies on whether they’d review the statute.
“The president and the administration has long been on the side of justice and equality, and some of the laws that we’ve seen passed that target LGBT Americans are not consistent with those values of fairness and equality,” Earnest said.
David Stacy, government affairs director for the Human Rights Campaign, said the discriminatory nature of the Mississippi law makes the federal review appropriate.
“This discriminatory law in Mississippi undercuts federal protections, and the federal government has a responsibility to examine what levers they have, and what authority they have, to ensure that LGBT Mississippians and visitors to the state have the federal protections they’re entitled to,” Stacy said.
Bryant’s office didn’t immediately respond to the Blade’s request comment on the federal review of the law, which the governor has defended as a means “to protect sincerely held religious beliefs and moral convictions of individuals, organizations and private associations.”