Ole Miss Students to Protest Gov. Phil Bryant's Signing of SB 2681 at Graduation | Jackson Free Press | Jackson, MS

Ole Miss Students to Protest Gov. Phil Bryant's Signing of SB 2681 at Graduation

The law says government cannot put a substantial burden on religious practices without a compelling reason. It does not mention gays or lesbians, but critics fear it will provide justification for business owners who oppose homosexuality to refuse services to same-sex couples.

The law says government cannot put a substantial burden on religious practices without a compelling reason. It does not mention gays or lesbians, but critics fear it will provide justification for business owners who oppose homosexuality to refuse services to same-sex couples. Photo by Trip Burns.

JACKSON, Miss. (AP) -- At a leafy college campus in north Mississippi and an upscale dinner club in New York, groups are protesting a Mississippi law that opponents say could sanction discrimination against gays and lesbians.

The Mississippi Religious Freedom Restoration Act was signed by Republican Gov. Phil Bryant in April, and becomes law July 1.

The law says government cannot put a substantial burden on religious practices without a compelling reason. It does not mention gays or lesbians, but critics fear it will provide justification for business owners who oppose homosexuality to refuse services to same-sex couples.

One protest is expected Saturday when the governor speaks at the University of Mississippi's graduation in Oxford. Organizer Kevin Cozart said he has distributed more than 350 lapel stickers with a rainbow-striped map of Mississippi and a quote from the university creed: "I believe in respect for the dignity of each person."

Cozart is a graduate student and former adviser to UM Pride Network, a group that supports lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender students. He said students, faculty members and some administrators have requested stickers to express low-key opposition to the law.

"People that I didn't expect to get involved are asking for stickers," Cozart said.

Bryant spokeswoman Nicole Webb said she does not expect the protest to be disruptive.

"The students and the families at the university have always been hospitable, and we expect they would continue to be," she said.

A second protest is June 13, when chefs from Mississippi and other places will participate in the Big Gay Mississippi Welcome Table at City Grit, a private dinner club in New York. The dinner was organized to show opposition to the religious restoration act, and it's being held the night before the 35th annual Mississippi picnic in Central Park, where state promoters serve fried catfish and sweet tea.

"Our intention with this dinner is not an antagonistic one. What we wanted to do is send a very clear message to the rest of the world that Mississippi is not looking backward," Oxford restaurateur John Currence said. "Mississippi is about acceptance. Mississippi is about inclusion and understanding."

The protests come weeks after gay rights supporters launched another protest with hundreds of Mississippi businesses posting window stickers with the slogan: "We don't discriminate. If you're buying, we're selling."

Bryant won praise from national conservative groups, including the Family Research Council, by signing the legislation supported by Pentecostals and Southern Baptists. Family Research Council president Tony Perkins traveled from Washington to Jackson for a private bill signing ceremony in the governor's office.

Bryant said the Mississippi act mirrors a federal law President Bill Clinton signed in 1993 and that 18 other states have enacted since the mid-1990s. The governor also said he does not believe Mississippi's law will lead to anti-gay discrimination.

Currence, a New Orleans native, has worked in Mississippi for 22 years. He said gays and lesbians contribute to the state's creative economy.

Currence said Bryant and his staff have been invited to the $95-a-plate dinner, which is raising money for Pride Network at the University of Mississippi and Mississippi State University. Webb would not say whether the governor will attend.

"The governor is focused on storm recovery and the Mississippians who lost their lives during a deadly outbreak of severe weather, not on a dinner in New York City," she said.

Chef Art Smith is among those participating in the Big Gay Mississippi Welcome Table. He has restaurants in Washington and Chicago and is a former chef for Mississippi native Oprah Winfrey.

Smith, a Florida native who married his husband on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial four years ago, said he believes the Mississippi law does not represent the will of most people in the South.

"It's important that we think about the future, think about how these laws have been created to clearly discriminate against the LGBT community," Smith said. "Whenever they say that they don't -- I don't believe them."


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Comments

js1976 6 years, 2 months ago

I don't believe that a college graduation is an acceptable place for protest. The day belongs to the students being honored for their achievements, so select another time for making your statement.

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multiculturegirl 6 years, 2 months ago

I don't believe the LGBTQ students who were graduating deserved to be slapped in the face by having him as a speaker. There is never a bad time to stand up to injustice, bigotry, and inequality.

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js1976 6 years, 2 months ago

"There is never a bad time to stand up to injustice, bigotry, and inequality."

There is a time and place for everything. Just for the record though, no injustices, bigotry, or signs of inequality have yet to happen as a result of the Religious Freedom Act.

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multiculturegirl 6 years, 2 months ago

Do they have to for it to be wrong? Governor Bryant has appeared as a guest on AFA radio more than once that in and of it's self is enough to protest. Saying there is a time and a place to protest is a nice way to say please don't make people uncomfortable. They didn't disrupt anything so what is your issue? They weren't there to be disruptive just as a reminder. It's not like this is the only offensive thing Phil Bryant is up to there are plenty of things he has done that have and will have dramatic impact on the state like rejecting medicaid expansion, constantly attacking abortion rights, spending valuable state money to drug test people on TANF, supporting fracking as a sound economic decision. If anything he should be grateful he's not protested everywhere he speaks.

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js1976 6 years, 2 months ago

"Saying there is a time and a place to protest is a nice way to say please don't make people uncomfortable."

Saying there is a time and place to protest is a nice way to say have respect for others. I could care less about making people "uncomfortable", but let the graduates have their day. They deserve it.

Take the Westboro Baptists into consideration when discussing protests. They don't piss off so many people because they make anyone "uncomfortable". They are hated by so many because of their lack of respect. I'm mearly using this as an example so don't assume I'm comparing the protest at Ole Miss to the lunatics at the WBC.

For the record, I think Bryant is an imbecile.

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multiculturegirl 6 years, 2 months ago

They didn't disturb the graduation what part of that don't you understand? They did a silent protest. So I am still trying to understand how you take that and compare it to Westboro? The fact you even compared the two is offensive. All they did was wear stickers and cords in support of LGBT rights and you find that to be the same as shouting "God Hates " at funerals? That is a big ole bunch of false equivalency!

Had they disrupted the graduation then you would have a point but they didn't come close.

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js1976 6 years, 2 months ago

I understand that the graduation wasn't disturbed, and that the protest was silent. However I still stand by my initial statement that the day belongs to the graduates not the protestors. Did you see any media covering anyone other than the protestors? Nope!

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js1976 6 years, 2 months ago

I understand that the graduation wasn't disturbed, and that the protest was silent. However I still stand by my initial statement that the day belongs to the graduates not the protestors. Did you see any media covering anyone other than the protestors? Nope!

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