News (USA)

Miss. House approves dramatically altered ‘religious freedom’ bill

JACKSON, Miss. — The Mississippi House vote 80 to 37 Wednesday evening to approve a dramatically altered “religious freedom” bill that simply calls for a joint House-Senate Judiciary committee to prepare a report “regarding proposed legislation that protects the religious freedoms of the citizens of the State of Mississippi.” The report is due December 31.

Mississippi state capitol in Jackson.
Mississippi state capitol in Jackson.

The amended bill averted a vote on the bill originally sent to the House floor that would have allowed a person to discriminate against others by asserting he or she has a religious motivation for doing so.

The Mississippi Senate had already passed a religious bias bill that went even further than the House version. Now, the House and Senate conference committee must reconcile the two very different bills.

Mississippi’s Republican Governor Phil Bryant has expressed support for one section contained in each bill – putting “In God We Trust” into the state seal. But he has not been clear on whether he would sign a bill that allowed discrimination.

As the House bill came to the floor Wednesday, rumors began circulating that there were not enough votes to pass it in the form it came to the floor.

Rep. Andy Gipson, chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, proposed replacing the language concerning “religious freedom” in the bill with language forming a study committee to hold three hearings starting June 1. That amendment passed by voice vote. He then urged his colleagues that a “Yes” vote on the newly amended bill would keep the original SB 2681 legislation “alive” for this session.

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The Mississippi bill and others like it in other states are the latest sign that the clash between the freedom of religion and non-discrimination laws continues to expand across the country.

In addition to Mississippi, there are still bills pending in Missouri, North Carolina, Oklahoma, and Oregon. And there are school-specific variations still afloat in at least seven legislatures, including Oklahoma where one passed the House unanimously.

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