BIRMINGHAM, Ala. — The SEC is keeping a close eye on the new religious freedom law that is causing a stir in Mississippi.
Gov. Phil Bryant signed a bill last week allowing religious groups and some private businesses, such as those involved in wedding celebrations, to refuse service to gay couples.
The new law could affect the SEC’s decision on whether to conduct championship sporting events inside Mississippi. During a speaking engagement Monday at the Associated Press Sports Editors’ southeast regional meeting, conference commissioner Greg Sankey was strong in siding with the SEC’s campuses in the state for publicly advocating for diversity and inclusion.
“The first thing I’d say is both of our universities in the state of Mississippi — their presidents — issued statements about the fact that their campuses are places of diversity and welcoming campuses to all,” Sankey said. “I have said that as well on social issues. What I’ve also said, and what our policy has been, is that we make decisions about championship sites, we’ll take into account a variety of issues and state issues like the state flag issue in the past. And this is one that is now emerging that would be part of that conversation as well.”
Bryant signed the Protecting Freedom of Conscience from Government Discrimination Act into law April 7 amid controversy in the state. He said the bill would only prevent the “government from interfering with people of faith who are exercising their religious beliefs … in matters of marriage,” according to The Clarion-Ledger.
The NCAA does not allow its pre-scheduled championship events to be held in Mississippi due to the Confederate state flag’s presence at the state capitol building. The SEC has not banned on-campus championship events due to the flag previously at Ole Miss, Mississippi State and South Carolina because “our campuses are places of inclusion and welcoming to young people,” Sankey said.
“As it relates to the neutral-site championship determination, that’s when we take a broader look at issues,” Sankey said. “So, the net of that is we have not stopped the on-campus championship rotation from including the University of Mississippi or Mississippi State University as it relates to the presence of the state flag.”
Sankey added the SEC will continue to monitor the legislation in Mississippi.
“We’re learning a bit more about these state legislative issues and we’ll be attentive as we go forward,” he said.