Baptist, Methodist leaders oppose 'religious freedom' bill

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 LGBT community on the basis of religious freedom, said a group that favors equality for  lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people. The leaders, according an email from the group, 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 bill was passed by a House committee Tuesday morning and goes to the full House for further debate.

The letter from the religious leaders and sent to the media by in an email by Paul Guequierre of the Human Rights Campaign:

"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