The Mississippi legislature passed a ‘religious freedom’ bill Tuesday and shipped the measure to Gov. Phil Bryant (R) for his signature, the Associated Press reported.
It is the first ‘religious freedom’ legislation, which have drawn backlash from LGBT rights advocates and the business community, to pass since a similar bill in Arizona drew national attention. The Mississippi bill originally mirrored the Arizona proposal that passed the state legislature before Gov. Jan Brewer (R) vetoed it, but some of the more controversial language had been gutted before Mississippi lawmakers approved their version.
In layman’s terms, the Mississippi bill has a few key differences from the Arizona legislation, Eunice Rho, advocacy and policy counsel with the ACLU, told TPM. First, religious freedom cannot be used as a defense in a lawsuit between two individuals — if, say, a gay couple sues a business owner for not serving them. It also prohibits employees from challenging an employer’s policy based on religious freedom.
In other words, the law only restricts the government itself from allegedly imposing on religious freedom. However, Rho said she is still concerned that the legislation could lead to discrimination. She gave the example of a large public university’s hiring practices being at risk or health care providers, who are at the moment barred from discriminating based on sexual orientation, citing religious freedom to turn away gay patients.
The ACLU proposed additional language to prevent discrimination, she said, but Mississippi lawmakers didn’t take it up.
“They were unwilling to entertain a very reasonable proposal to make sure that discrimination didn’t happen,” Rho said. “That was one of the main reasons that we continued to object.”
Meanwhile, conservative groups that have supported the ‘religious freedom’ bills claimed victory with Mississippi’s action.
“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, said in a statement. “The Founders never envisioned a government forcing Americans to choose between the basic teachings of their faith and losing their livelihood.”
Photo: Mississippi Gov. Phil Bryant (R)