New Hope to remain unaffected by HB 1523

HB+1523%27s+supporters+believe+that+it+protects+religious+freedom.+Opponents+believe+it+is+discriminatory.+It+remains+unclear+how+it+affects+Mississippi+schools.
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New Hope to remain unaffected by HB 1523

HB 1523's supporters believe that it protects religious freedom. Opponents believe it is discriminatory. It remains unclear how it affects Mississippi schools.

HB 1523's supporters believe that it protects religious freedom. Opponents believe it is discriminatory. It remains unclear how it affects Mississippi schools.

HB 1523's supporters believe that it protects religious freedom. Opponents believe it is discriminatory. It remains unclear how it affects Mississippi schools.

HB 1523's supporters believe that it protects religious freedom. Opponents believe it is discriminatory. It remains unclear how it affects Mississippi schools.

Jasmyn Webb, News Editor

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Mississippi has been the center of attention in the news and on social media after Governor Phil Bryant signed House Bill 1523 on April 4, 2016. Because it does not go into effect until July, it is still unclear what impact the broad bill will have on schools like New Hope High.

The controversy centers on the fact that some citizens believe this bill allows businesses and public employees to discriminate against LGBT people, as the bill depends on these three religious beliefs: marriage is between woman and man, sexual relations should merely recur in a heterosexual marriage, and biological sex can’t be changed.

These points inspired HB 1523, which supporters argue gives greater power towards private and public workers alike to deny services to certain groups based on “sincerely held religious beliefs.”

Not only would religious organizations be protected from providing services for same-sex marriages, but public officials would have state protection, as well. For example, Kim Davis, a Kentucky circuit clerk was jailed for not issuing same-sex marriage licenses, and with the new law would be protected for her “sincerely held religious beliefs.”

Even though this bill explicitly protects businesses and allows them to act upon it, does it still apply towards the schools and campuses of Mississippi, which are made up by public employees?

Matt Smith, principal of New Hope High School, strongly disagrees with “prehistoric” bill that he believes echoes discriminatory laws from the Jim Crow era, and argues that it will have no impact at New Hope High School.

“We [Mississippians] already have a black eye in every facet of the word, and now we’ve become the first state in the union to pass legislation that’s specifically written and allowed to make discrimination legal,” Smith expressed.

Smith added that he feels it is sad because there are older people who are running this state and making decisions for the younger generation, therefore the thought process is a complete one-eighty from what a majority of young people think.

“Because I’m in the kid business, I get a chance to see both sides, and I tend to follow on the side of the younger people. I think it’s ridiculous to discriminate against any group of people. I don’t care if a student’s gay, straight, black, purple, or brown, I just want everyone to be loved, taught, and made to feel special.”

Smith believes it is his and the entire staff of New Hope High School’s job to help kids long a path of education, excluding concerns towards their sexual orientation.

Though Smith does not foresee any problems at New Hope, he’s often worried about students who may or may not have an issue with gender identity and wanting to use the opposite restrooms (a reference to HB 1523’s section 3.6).

“I haven’t crossed that bridge yet, and I hope I don’t, but no, the bill wont affect anyone here. It can affect lots of people outside of school, but it won’t affect anybody in any way. I won’t allow it.”

Presented with a hypothetical teacher using these “sincerely held religious beliefs” to deny “services” to students, Smith expressed that he feels the bill is supposed to be for goods and services in the business world, and it could not ever come into play in a school setting.

“I would defend the right of a student if it happens, but it’s not going to happen because I won’t allow it to happen.”

Section 3.4 of HB 1523 does seem to protect counselors (private or public), though, who have the right not to help any LGBT members. Smith also states that it doesn’t apply to the counselors at New Hope High, clarifying that neither one of our counselors will act on this law.

“That’s not an issue for any of us because we’re not going to turn away any of our students based on their sexual orientation or their skin color. We’re here to help kids, and you can’t be in the kid business if you’re not willing to do that.”

Full text of the bill can be found here: http://billstatus.ls.state.ms.us/documents/2016/pdf/HB/1500-1599/HB1523SG.pdf