Mississippi lawmakers approve 'religious freedom' bill

[JURIST] Mississippi lawmakers on Tuesday passed the Mississippi Religious Freedom Restoration Act [SB 2681, PDF], pursuant to which the state would be prohibited from taking action that "burdens" a citizen's right to religious exercise if Governor Phil Bryant [official website] signs the measure into law. The law defines "burden" as including a state decision to withhold benefits, to assess criminal, civil or administrative penalties, or a decision to exclude a citizen from governmental programs or access to governmental facilities. Rights groups have expressed concern that the law may, in some cases, allow for discrimination. The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) [advocacy website] argues that the law will "open the door" [press releases] to discrimination against certain group based upon religious objections:

The ACLU of Mississippi will continue to oppose [the law] and will defend religious freedom as a fundamental right. We have the absolute right to believe whatever we want about God, faith, and religion, and we have the right to act on our beliefs, unless those actions harm others.
The ACLU argues the law could allow individuals and businesses "to bring challenges against what they view as substantial government burdens against religion," including "challenging existing nondiscrimination laws." Legislatures across the country, including in Georgia, Idaho, Maine and Ohio, have reportedly rejected similar measures. The law will go into effect on July 1 if signed.

The bounds of religious freedom continues to be a hotly debated issue around the globe. In March JURIST Guest Columnist Joseph La Rue of Alliance Defending Freedom described [JURIST op-ed] the motivation behind Religious Freedom Restoration Acts and the impact Arizona Governor Jan Brewer's veto [JURIST report] of similar legislation could have on the residents of Arizona. SB 1062 [materials] would have permitted Arizona business owners to refuse service to individuals for "religious reasons," and was largely denounced by critics as sanctioning discrimination against LGBT individuals. The bill was jointly written by the conservative Center for Arizona Policy and the Alliance Defending Freedom [advocacy websites], a Christian legal organization, and was approved [JURIST report] by Arizona state lawmakers in February. Brewer wrote in her veto letter to the president of the Arizona state senate that the legislation "does not seek to address a specific and present concern related to Arizona businesses," and also that "the bill is broadly worded and could result in unintended and negative consequences."

 

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