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States Ban Non-Essential Travel To Mississippi Over 'Religious Freedom' Law


Mississippi is facing a growing backlash following the passage of its controversial religious freedom law. The law allows businesses and religious groups to deny services to lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people if they think doing so violates their religious beliefs. It takes affect this summer, but already a growing numbers of states and cities are banning official travel to Mississippi. NPR's Hansi Lo Wang reports.

HANSI LO WANG, BYLINE: Mississippi may be known as the hospitality state, but it's becoming a no-go zone for employees of multiple estates and cities like Seattle, San Francisco and Santa Fe. They're protesting a law that Mississippi Gov. Phil Bryant told WLBT is designed to prevent government from interfering with people's lives.


PHIL BRYANT: There's no one on the part of the Mississippi legislature or the governor's office that wants to discriminate or harm anyone. If they are worried about protecting people's rights, also understand that people of faith have rights.

WANG: But New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo doesn't see it that way.


ANDREW CUOMO: Any state that is discriminating on the basis of sexual orientation, our message is loud and clear. We think it's wrong. We want to have no part of it.

WANG: And neither does Vermont Gov. Peter Shumlin who's also imposed a travel ban.


PETER SHUMLIN: If we don't stand up to bigotry if we don't stand up to hatred, it will just continue.

WANG: Their offices could not provide the exact number of state employees who have traveled to Mississippi in the past year before broadcast, but Shumlin says any upcoming taxpayer-funded trips would be re-evaluated.


SHUMLIN: If there's an absolute necessity, you can get permission to go, but we're really trying to put as much pressure as we can on governors in states who are promoting hatred at the expense of people's civil rights.

WANG: Travel bans have been the go-to response for states and cities taking a stand against religious freedom laws. That was a case with North Carolina last month and with Indiana last year. This latest ban against Mississippi is forcing many local businesses to think about their bottom line.

According to Sungsoo Kim, a professor at the University of Southern Mississippi's business school. He says his state already has a hard time attracting visitors.

SUNGSOO KIM: There's no major - no tourist attraction that can attract outside visitors. We don't want to lose any possibility to bring people into the Mississippi state.

WANG: The Mississippi Economic Council, the state's chamber of commerce, says the law goes against its nondiscrimination policy. And in a statement released before the bill was signed, the Mississippi Manufacturers Association said it fears the future of economic development opportunities will be jeopardized.


MITCHELL MOORE: Mississippi is an amazing place, and it's filled with amazing people. But if you don't know that, you're going to choose to not come here because of bills like this.

WANG: Mitchell Moore owns a bakery in Jackson, Miss. He told NPR's MORNING EDITION that he considers himself a deeply Christian man, and he plans to continue selling wedding cakes to clients regardless of their sexual orientation. Still, he says, he is worried about unintended consequences of Mississippi's law.


MOORE: If it is my sincerely held religious belief that I shouldn't serve them, then I can do that, and I can hide behind that language. But that language is so vague. It opens up Pandora's box, and you can't shut it again.

WANG: In the meantime, Mississippi will be shut off from official visits by New York, Washington and other states unless the law is changed or overturned by a court. Hansi lo Long, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.