Chamber of Commerce Threatens SC Senator over Religious Freedom Bill

FILE - In this July 6, 2015, file photo, state Sen. Lee Bright, R-Spartanburg, holds the "Roll Call of the Dead" while making his case not to take down the Confederate flag during the South Carolina senate's debate on a bill that calls for the removal of the Confederate flag …
Tim Dominick/The State via AP, File

Just as North Carolina is being pressured to eliminate its recent religious freedom bill, the legislature in neighboring South Carolina is considering a similar bill of its own. Just like North Carolina, many are lining up in opposition, and in the Palmetto State, the Chamber of Commerce is leading the charge to stop the bill in its tracks.

The bill in South Carolina (Senate Bill 1203) was introduced by Sen. Lee Bright (R-Spartanburg) in order to make sure small businesses, especially, would not be pressured by state government to put in place certain policies that might violate a business owner’s religious conscience.

“Folks around the state, I believe, are concerned and they believe that men should use the men’s room and women should use the women’s room and fundamentally, businesses should not be forced to make these accommodations,” Senator Bright told Fox Carolina.

Certainly strong forces are lining up to defeat Bright’s efforts, especially from many in the state’s gay community. But economic forces are also gathering, including the state’s Chamber of Commerce.

Breitbart News spoke to Senator Bright who said it was a shame that the chamber has jumped into the political sphere to torpedo religious freedom.

“I just wish a lot of other conservatives around the state would get motivated,” Bright said of pushing the bill through the state Senate. “We’re having a hard time getting them motivated after the Chamber of Commerce said they were going to oppose my re-election, it’s scared a lot of people from taking a stand.”

“The economic aspect is scaring people off,” Bright acknowledged. “When the Chamber says they’re going to oppose your re-election, in an election year it definitely gets the other folks’ attention.”

But Bright insists few business owners really have an ideological problem with his bill or the one in North Carolina.

“I’ve talked with some legislators in North Carolina,” Bright said, “and they tell me that these business groups have privately told them that they don’t have a problem with the bill, it’s just that they want to get the LGBT community off their back.”

Pressure from LGBT and gay groups is mounting against the bill. Representatives of some of these groups recently spoke before a Senate Committee hearing in the state capital in Columbia.

Bright said he was sympathetic to their impassioned pleas, but he also noted to Breitbart News that his bill is not an anti-gay bill.

“It’s absolutely insane when people say this is an anti-gay bill,” Bright added, “it has nothing to do with homosexuality and everything to do with privacy and safety. This bill isn’t telling gay people they can’t be gay. I think it’s just that the left has an agenda and they don’t want anything recognized as absolute. And recognizing someone’s gender as being male or female is absolute. It’s a war on absolutism and common sense, and it’s just reality. I mean, you’re either male or female.”

Bright also said we as a nation are seeing far too many instances already of predators committing criminal acts in public restrooms. The Senator also found it strange that on one hand liberals claim they are against harassment of women, yet are willing to open women and children up to even more of it with pro-transgender bathroom laws.

“The left claims they are against rape and harassment,” Bright said, “but allowing men into women’s washrooms will allow just this sort of thing.” Bright continued saying, “They argue about this right to privacy” in many women’s rights issues, “but how is there a fundamental right to privacy in a multi-stall restroom?”

Bright isn’t alone in his desire to protect religious liberty in South Carolina. According to former Columbia City Councilman Cameron Runyan, the senator’s bill would have far-reaching consequences to safeguard the religious freedom of those who disagree with the LGBT agenda.

Runyan ran afoul of the LGBT lobby in his last election and was turned out of office as a city councilman. The former council member drew the ire of the LGBT crowd when he helped to defeat what he called a “star-chamber”-like law that would allow a handpicked commission, led by the mayor, to meet in private — and in violation of public open meeting laws — to decide the guilt of any citizen, employee, business, or government worker who runs afoul of LGBT-friendly ideals.

Despite his efforts in the past, Runyan revealed to Breitbart News that the City of Columbia has already passed several city ordinances dealing with public restrooms, including those in private businesses.

Yet Runyan feels the effort to push these bills has nothing at all to do with preventing any discrimination against gays or transgender people. On the contrary, he says, the rule will be used in the near future to discriminate against religious people, especially religious business owners. The proof, he says, is that in eight years the rules the city already passed have never been used to stop any discrimination against a gay person because, he says, these laws have an ulterior motive.

“The real purpose of these laws is not to protect against discrimination,” Runyan told Breitbart:

The way we can prove that is that, in the City of Columbia, these laws have been on the books for eight years and they’ve yet to be used as a remedy in a case of discrimination a single time. And so what that tells you is that discrimination against gays and transgender people is not happening. And then we get to the real motive, why do they want these laws on the books? The reason is that it becomes a tool — particularly as the culture goes further and further to the left on matters of human sexuality — it becomes a tool to bully and intimidate and suppress and repress anyone that disagrees with the liberal trajectory of the culture. And that’s what this is really about, these laws are nothing but hammers looking for nails. And we get further and further down this road and they are going to start hammering people all over the place.

Such rules, though, may be inevitable, Runyan said. The South Carolinian, who delivered an extensive explanation of the problems facing Columbia last October, pointed out that the “millennial generation” has been brought up to push the LGBT line.

“The bottom line in all of this is that our society has sort of lost its collective mind and we now live in a society where these kids, this younger generation in particular, has been raised to believe there are no absolutes,” Runyan insisted. “These kids literally believe that a circle can become a square, but it just can’t happen.”

Because of this, Runyan said, we need to start putting laws in place now to protect people who refuse to accept the left’s social engineering.

“We’re really in for some real issues coming down the pike if we don’t put some legal protections in place to protect folks who disagree with current liberal thought culture,” Runyan said. “I think we’ve all come to realize now that modern American liberalism is the most intolerant of all the major ideologies out there now. And if we don’t put these kind of protections in for folks, within a few years you’re going to see laws like what passed in Columbia probably passed in many other places around South Carolina and probably used to bully, to intimidate, and to prosecute people who disagree with liberal ideas.”

“I know it’s not popular at all,” Runyan concluded, “again because our culture seems to believe that there are no absolute truths and now that we’ve about reached that day it’s not popular what Senator Bright has done in many, many corners, but I’d say it’s definitely very needed and the City of Columbia would be ‘exhibit A’ of what we need to guard against.”

Still, it appears Senator Bright has a tall hill to climb to get Senate Bill 1203 passed into law in the Palmetto State.

Follow Warner Todd Huston on Twitter @warnerthuston, or email the author at


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