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Mississippi Likely to Take Hits From Outsiders on Religious Freedom Bill

JACKSON, Miss.–The Religious Freedom bill is the one you’ve heard about that, in an earlier form, was a lot like one that passed in the Arizona legislature, but was vetoed by their governor. It’s the one that gay rights groups and others feared would make it easier to discriminate against gays in the state. It’s also the one that passed Mississippi’s legislature Tuesday and is now headed to the governor to become law.

The bill, in its current form, puts “In God We Trust” on the state seal. It passed the Senate 37-14 and the Miss. House 79-43.

House Speaker Phillip Gunn, in a statement after the bill passed, said it’s very close to a bill that passed in the U.S. Congress in 1993, and was signed into law by Pres. Clinton.

“The RFRA language in this conference report is responsible and narrow in focus,” said Gunn. “The goal of the House, from the beginning, has been to craft language that protects the religious freedoms for all and prevents discrimination against anyone. This RFRA language is virtually the same language passed in 1993 by Congress.”

The 1993 RFRA was endorsed by groups that include the ACLU, the Traditional Values Coalition, the American Muslim Council, the American Jewish Committee, the American Humanists Association, the Jesuit Social Ministries, the National Association of Evangelicals, and more than 50 other organizations, said the statement from Gunn.

The Human Rights Campaign has been vocal in its opposition to the bill and was on the forefront when a group of ministers wrote letters and lobbied against the bill. The ministers were from Starkville, Hattiesburg and Jackson.

Sarah Warbelow, the state legislative director for the HRC, said in a statement after the bill passed Tuesday, that the governor should veto the bill.

“While there were many efforts to correct the clearly problematic elements of this legislation, the bill still has the effect of making LGBT people strangers to the law. Before Mississippi has had the opportunity to robustly discuss the lived experiences of LGBT people, this bill would hollow out any non-discrimination protections at the local level or possible future state-wide protections.  Just as we’ve seen in other states, this bill is bad for business, bad for the state’s reputation, and most of all, bad for Mississippians,” she said.

The HRC, which is the organization behind pro-gay resolutions passed in Starkville, Hattiesburg and Oxford earlier this year, said their concerns are that the bill could have future ripple effects.

This is from their statement:

It is possible that the law could:

  • Undermine future state and local non-discrimination laws protecting LGBT individuals.
  • Interfere with licensing organizations that have professional regulations protecting LGBT individuals.
  • Undermine public university non-discrimination policies that include classes of people who lack federal protections
  • Allow pharmacists to refuse to provide HIV and hormone replacement therapy drugs.
  • Permit restaurants, inns/hotels to potentially turn away same-sex couples celebrating an anniversary, adoption or pregnancy.
  • Permit wedding garment shops, bakeries, photo studios, and reception halls to close their doors to same-sex couples planning their weddings.

Other groups, like Deep South Progressive, had already begun Tweeting their opposition Tuesday.

Bryant is not only not likely to veto the bill, but is very likely to sign it, as is.

“I’m looking forward to getting the final version of the bill,” he said. “Certainly if it comes to me the way it has been signed in 18 other states, similar to the one Pres. Clinton signed, I’m gonna sign it into law.”

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