JACKSON, Miss. — The Mississippi Senate voted unanimously on Friday in favor of SB 2681, also known as the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, sending the bill to the House for consideration.
Like legislation introduced in other states, the Religious Freedom Restoration Act prohibits the government from burdening the free exercise of religion without a compelling interest furthered by the least restrictive means.
“A person whose exercise of religion has been burdened or is likely to be burdened in violation of this section may assert that violation or impending violation as a claim or defense in a judicial proceeding, regardless of whether the state or a political subdivision of the state is a party to the proceeding,” it also outlines.
SB 2681 was introduced by Sen. Phillip Gandy (R-Waynesboro), who also serves as a pastor at Liberty Baptist Church in Waynesboro. Sen. John Polk (R-Hattiesburg) then added an amendment that would grant authorization for the phrase “In God We Trust” to be added to the state seal.
Gov. Phil Bryant had urged the legislature to work to add the motto to the seal during his recent State of the State address.
“I continue to believe this is the right time to stand for our beliefs—our faith, our families, and our nation. To strengthen our resolve, I have asked that we take a bold step for God and country,” he said. “I have called on [the Senate] to introduce legislation that would change the wording on the Great Seal of the State of Mississippi to reflect our nation’s motto. With your help, the seal of the State of Mississippi will, from this session forward, reflect the simple yet profound words ‘In God We Trust.'”
The legislation cleared the Universities and Colleges Committee on Wednesday, passing it on to the full Senate for a vote. It was approved unanimously 48-0 with 4 senators absent.
Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves applauded the Senate following the bill’s passage.
“The United States is a Christian nation, and nowhere is that reflected more than in Mississippi,” he stated. “I appreciate Sen. Gandy for introducing a bill that reflects Mississippi values, and Chairman Polk for moving it through the legislative process quickly.”
However, Gov. Bryant also noted, “This bill applies to all religions, including Islam, Buddhism and New Age religions. We need to think carefully about the implications of it.”
Legislators in Maine and Ohio proposed similar bills in recent months, complementing the federal law that is already the standard across the nation. The federal Religious Freedom Restoration Act was signed into law in 1993 by then-President Bill Clinton, but only applies on a federal level. The U.S. Supreme Court has urged states to enact their own RFRA to protect citizens.
“[The Declaration of Independence] talks about how our right as human beings are not given to us by government, nor the Constitution, but by God,” said Representative Bill Patmon (D-Columbus) of Ohio last month in explaining the purpose of the law. “Protect what God has given you; that is the whole idea.”
Photo: Chuck Kelly