Mississippi lawmakers feel pressure over religion bill

Lawmakers in conservative Mississippi find themselves in a tug-of-war over a religious-practices bill that some say is uncomfortably similar to one recently vetoed by Arizona’s Republican governor.

A group that lobbies for the state’s influential Southern Baptist Convention is urging lawmakers to pass the Mississippi Religious Freedom Restoration Act.

Others say that Mississippi, with its history of racial oppression, should avoid any law that could lead to discrimination against gay people and other groups.

Similar religious-freedom bills were filed this year in several states, including Oklahoma, South Dakota and Tennessee. A bill was withdrawn in Ohio, and similar measures stalled in Idaho and Kansas. Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer vetoed a bill after critics said it would hurt the state’s image by allowing businesses to discriminate against gay people.

One version of the Mississippi bill passed the Senate and awaits House debate by next week. Trying to assuage fears about discrimination, a House committee removed portions similar to the Arizona measure — provisions that some attorneys said could give cover to private businesses that choose to discriminate. But critics say the Mississippi bill is still vaguely worded and subject to broad interpretation, and should be killed rather than tweaked.

In its current form, it says government cannot put a substantial burden on the practice of religion without a compelling reason. It says a person whose religious practice has been, or is likely to be, substantially burdened may cite that violation in either suing others or as a defense against a lawsuit.

Sunherald
3/7/14