JACKSON, Miss. (AP) — In conservative Mississippi, some business owners who support equal treatment for gays and lesbians are pushing back against a new law that bans government from limiting the free practice of religion.
Critics fear the vaguely written law, which takes effect July 1, will prompt authorities to look away from anti-gay actions that are carried out in the name of religious beliefs — for example, photographers refusing to take pictures for same-sex couples because they believe homosexuality is a sin.
Hundreds of businesses, from hair salons to bakeries and art galleries, have started displaying round blue window stickers that declare: "We don't discriminate. If you're buying, we're selling."
The sticker campaign started this month in response to Republican Gov. Phil Bryant's signing the Mississippi Religious Freedom Restoration Act.
The law says government cannot put a substantial burden on religious practices, without a compelling reason. While it does not specifically mention gays or lesbians, "People are going to take it as permission, if you will, to discriminate against people they don't necessarily agree with or like," said Jackson hair salon owner Eddie Outlaw, 42, who went out of state to marry his husband.
"We have a long and well-documented history of discrimination in this state," Outlaw said. "To think there won't be any discrimination is laughable."
Outlaw is among the leaders of the "We don't discriminate" campaign, and he displays one of the stickers in the window of his salon in Jackson's eclectic Fondren neighborhood. Organizers say the first 500 decals were distributed in about two weeks to businesses from the Tennessee state line in the north down to the Gulf Coast. Another 1,000 stickers were on order.
Bryant won praise from national conservative groups, including the Family Research Council, by signing the legislation that was backed by the state's Pentecostals and Southern Baptists. Family Research Council president Tony Perkins, who traveled from Washington to Jackson for a private bill signing ceremony April 3, is among Bryant's backers.