Religious Freedom bill changed, still studied

other_state_govBy Bobby Harrison

Daily Journal Jackson Bureau

JACKSON – Language in the Religious Freedom Restoration Act has been modified in a House Judiciary B subcommittee in an effort to quell concerns from many that the proposal could lead to discriminatory actions by private businesses.

The Mississippi Economic Council praised Wednesday’s action of the House subcommittee for providing “both positive clarification and focused direction.”

The legislation in Mississippi has received national attention after the Arizona Legislature passed a version of the bill that critics said would allow businesses, citing religious beliefs, to discriminate against people. For instance, critics say the bill would allow someone not to do business with a gay person.

Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer vetoed that legislation Wednesday after the state came under intense national scrutiny.

In Mississippi, the legislation was changed by the House subcommittee so that it would pertain to actions by the government not private entities. In other words, the government could not require someone to do something against his or her religious beliefs. The language models federal law.

House Judiciary Chair Andy Gipson, R-Braxton, which discussed the bill Thursday, said his committee is still studying the legislation.

“We’re going to study and research the bill in depth before we do anything,” Gipson said.

Gipson added, “I don’t think the bill does what people say it does, especially after the subcommittee changes.”

Rep. Ed Blackmon, D-Canton, said the proposal has the potential to cause more problems than it solves.

He said the bill could make it “too easy to justify things that are harmful to other groups.”

The bill still includes less controversial language to place “In God We Trust” in the state seal. The bill could be amended further in the legislative process, including restoring the original language.

MEC Chief Executive Officer Blake Wilson told the Mississippi Business Journal the bill as it was passed with no dissenting votes by the Senate earlier this session before the House subcommittee’s changes could have “unintended consequence.”

The MEC said its official position is that “as the state Chamber of Commerce for a state that has proven its hospitable and business-friendly approach, MEC opposes efforts that would intentionally or unintentionally prevent state businesses from implementing and enforcing nondiscrimination policies impacting their customers and employees.”

MEC officials said the group had no position on the bill other than hoping it aligns with its official position on the issue.

bobby.harrison@journalinc.com