JACKSON, Miss. — Lawmakers in Mississippi passed a religious freedom bill on Tuesday that allows for residents of faith to legally challenge state actions that place a substantial burden on their free exercise of religion.
“State action or an action by any person based on state action shall not burden a person’s right to exercise of religion, even if the burden results from a rule of general applicability,” the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, SB 2681, reads, adding that the only exception is if the action has a compelling government interest and is the least restrictive means of furthering the interest.
The free exercise of religion is defined in the bill as “the ability to act or the refusal to act in a manner that is substantially motivated by one’s sincerely held religious belief, whether or not the exercise is compulsory or central to a larger system of religious belief.”
The measure was introduced by Senator Phillip Gandy (R-Waynesboro), who also serves as senior pastor of Liberty Baptist Church. It passed both the House and Senate on the same day—79-43 in the House and 37-14 in the Senate—but not after debate among lawmakers who disagreed about whether the proposal could result in discrimination against homosexuals.
“If you don’t think this bill does what I know it does, you go make a fool out of somebody else,” Senator Kenny Wayne Jones (D-Canton) argued on the floor.
“There is nothing in this bill that authorizes discrimination against anybody,” Senator Gary Jackson (R-French Camp) refuted. “This protects the Buddhist, the Christian, the Muslim against government interference.”
Gandy also told OneNewsNow this week that the bill has nothing to do with discrimination.
“There’s one of two things [about people who say that]: One, either they haven’t read the bill – or two, they’re just trying to frighten people, and there’s some people who do that really well,” he stated. “When they don’t have a good argument, they attack. And certainly we’ve seen a lot of that.”
The Mississippi bill, which is modeled after the federal Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA), is stated to be similar to a measure that was vetoed last month by Arizona Governor Jan Brewer.
“This is a victory for the First Amendment and the right to live and work according to one’s conscience,” Tony Perkins, president of the Family Research Council, wrote in a statement following the bill’s passage. “This commonsense measure was a no-brainer for freedom, and like the federal [Religious Freedom Restoration Act], it simply bars government discrimination against religious exercise. The legislature gave strong approval to a bill that declares that individuals do not have to trade their religious freedom for entrance into public commerce.”
Secondary to its protection of religious freedom, the legislation also approves the addition of the motto “In God We Trust” to the state flag.
The measure will now head to Governor Phil Bryant, who is expected to sign the bill into law.
Photo: Chuck Kelly