Today a group of Mississippi Baptist and Methodist leaders sent an open letter to state legislators condemning SB 2681 that would allow businesses to refuse services to the lesbian, gay, bisexual and trans* community on the basis of religious freedom. In the letter the signatories stand firm in their support of religious freedom, saying they hold the right sacred, but note the difference between religious space and commercial space.
The letter goes on to say, “When providing a service to the public, businesses cannot pick and choose whom to serve and whom to deny. This is basic discrimination and it has nothing to do with religious freedom.”
The Baptist and Methodist signatories of the letter join a growing chorus of voices calling on the legislature to reject the bill, including prominent Mississippi native Lance Bass and the Mississippi State Chamber of Commerce.
Last week, Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer vetoed a similar measure that had passed through that state’s legislature after receiving enormous pressure from a number of prominent Arizonans like Sen. John McCain and Sen. Jeff Flake, as well as the Arizona Chamber of Commerce and Industry, the Arizona Tech Council, dozens of faith leaders from across the state, major corporations including AT&T, PetSmart, American Airlines, Delta Airlines, Apple, and even the Arizona Super Bowl Host Committee and the Arizona Cardinals.
In addition to corporate resistance to these discriminatory bills, prominent Republicans across the country are speaking out. Former Republican nominee for president Mitt Romney, former Oklahoma Governor Frank Keating, and James Richardson, a former spokesman and adviser to former Mississippi Governor Haley Barbour have all denounced these discriminatory bills.
The letter from the religious leaders:
We write this letter in opposition to Senate Bill 2681. Our opposition rises out of our moral obligation to do what is best for our communities.
As people of faith, we are ardent supporters of religious freedom for all Americans. We know that it is the religious freedom to worship as we choose that makes our country and our state great. Religious organizations have a long established First Amendment ability to operate according to their own beliefs and we as faith leaders hold that right as sacred and will do all in our power to preserve it.
However, we also know that there is a difference between sacred space and commercial space. When providing a service to the public, businesses cannot pick and choose whom to serve and whom to deny. This is basic discrimination and it has nothing to do with religious freedom.
This legislation will have immense and negative consequences on all communities, including religious communities. First, it sends the message that one’s particular religious interpretation can become the law of the land. Second, as religious leaders we know that families are harmed when legislation unfairly opens up members of our communities to discrimination. As a state, we know we can do better than that.
As Methodists and Baptists, we may not always agree on all things, but we can agree that this bill goes too far and is unnecessary. Because we are people who are called to “love our neighbors as ourselves,” we ask Mississippi legislators to reject Senate Bill 2681.
Rev. Rob Hill, Broadmeadow United Methodist Church, Jackson
Rev. Stan Wilson, Northside Baptist Church, Clinton
Rev. Bruce Case, Parkway Hills United Methodist Church, Madison
Rev. Bert Montgomery, University Baptist Church, Starkville
Rev. Rusty Edwards, University Baptist Church, Hattiesburg