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Mississippi House panel faces deadline on religious freedom bill

Monday, March 3, 2014
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JACKSON, Miss. — A Mississippi House panel will decide Tuesday whether to kill a religious freedom bill or keep it alive with or without changes.

Critics say the bill (SB 2681) could lead to discrimination against gay people and other groups. But, supporters say it would reinforce religious freedom guaranteed by the U.S. Constitution.

Mississippi state capitol in Jackson.

Mississippi state capitol in Jackson.

Senate Bill 2681 is called the “Mississippi Religious Freedom Restoration Act,” and it’s similar to a bill that Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer vetoed last week after critics said the measure could lead to anti-gay discrimination.

The Mississippi bill passed the state Senate Jan. 31 and faces a Tuesday deadline in the House Judiciary B Committee.

A subcommittee proposes removing parts of the bill that would allow people to refuse service to others based on religious beliefs. If the full committee accepts the changes, the bill would say state government cannot infringe on religious practices.

“We’re still studying the bill,” the subcommittee chairman, Rep. Joey Hood, R-Ackerman, said Monday.

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The bill also would add “In God We Trust” to the state seal, as requested by Republican Gov. Phil Bryant.

The William Winter Institute for Racial Reconciliation, based at the University of Mississippi and named for a former governor, issued a statement Monday calling on lawmakers to kill the bill. It said if the bill becomes law, Mississippi would be under a “shameful cloud of discrimination” that would hurt economic development.

When the Mississippi Senate debated and passed the bill 48-0, there was no mention of whether the measure would allow discrimination against gay people or other groups. Rather, the debate focused on whether there’s a need for a state law to spell out the freedom to practice religion that’s already guaranteed.

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