Miss. religious freedom measure drawing scrutiny

Gov. Phil Bryant on Wednesday was noncommittal about the pending Mississippi “Religious Freedom Restoration Act,” one of numerous bills proffered in legislatures across the nation that opponents are saying would allow discrimination against gay people and others.

“What little bit I’ve heard about it — I’m depending on the legislative process, and I hate to comment on it at this point,” Bryant said. “I am sure attorneys in the House of Representatives will be looking at it. I’m just not prepared to say at this point whether that bill has that provision in it or not … I do support putting In God We Trust on the state seal.”

Several Mississippi lawmakers and legislative leaders said they are just realizing the possible implications of the bill, which passed the Senate unanimously.

An Arizona bill, which passed its legislature last week and Republican Gov. Jan Brewer vetoed Wednesday, has created debate and criticism of similar states’ legislation being called “gay Jim Crow” or “turn the gays away” laws. Some large corporations and national political leaders — Democrat and Republican — spoke out against Arizona’s bill. One similar measure is pending in Georgia. Ones in Tennessee and Kansas were recently killed.

The Mississippi bill says the state cannot “burden” a person’s right to exercise religion. It says: “‘Burden’ means any action that directly or indirectly constrains, inhibits, curtails or denies the exercise of religion by any person or compels any action contrary to a person’s exercise of religion.”

Sen. Phillip Gandy, R-Waynesboro, author of Senate Bill 2681, says his bill is similar to laws already passed by 18 other states and Congress since the 1990s. His proposal, like laws already enacted in states including Alabama, Louisiana, Florida and Virginia, says religious freedom can be limited only by the “least restrictive means” for a “compelling government interest.”

The Arizona bill would appear to apply to private parties. The Mississippi bill appears limited to government actions.

Clarion Ledger
2/26/14