Senate Bill 2681, which drew nation-wide attention and says state and local government cannot put a substantial burden on religious practices, passed the Mississippi House Judiciary Committee on Tuesday.
Section 2 of the SB 2681 bill states that it would add the motto “In God We Trust” to the state of Mississippi seal and if signed as a law by Gov. Bryant, this complete act will take effect and be enforced after July 1, 2014 in the state of Mississippi.
Judiciary B Committee Chairman Andy Gipson, Republican-Braxton, who is also a Baptist minister, told the Associated Press that by limiting the Mississippi bill to government action and excluding private action, it is different from the Arizona bill.
“I don’t think it was Arizona before, and I know that with the House version it’s not the Arizona bill,” Gipson said. “It was arguable whether it was doing what people said it did in the Senate version. Just to eliminate that argument, we took it to a clear state action only.”
SB 2681 states that the act will be called and may be cited as the Mississippi Religious Freedom Restoration Act. The bill says “burden” means any action that directly or indirectly constrains, inhibits, curtails or denies the exercise of religion by any person or compels any action contrary to a person’s exercise of religion. “Burden” includes, but is not limited to, withholding benefits, assessing criminal, civil or administrative penalties or exclusion from governmental programs or access to governmental facilities.
Ravi Perry, assistant professor of political science, said he believes the bill is fundamentally flawed and there is a difference between alleged intentions and outcomes.
“It is quite clear that the impact, should this bill pass and be signed into law by Governor Bryant, would be a devastating blow for a nation that espouses values of basic human dignity and fairness, and that has written into federal law a litany of constitutional rights that would be trampled on by this action,” Perry said.
SB 2681 states “exercise of religion” means the practice or observance of religion. “Exercise of religion” includes, but is not limited to, the ability to act or the refusal to act in a manner that is substantially motivated by one’s sincerely-held religious belief, whether or not the exercise is compulsory or central to a larger system of religious belief.
Marisa Bruner, junior political science major, said she does not see any clear benefit from the passing of the SB 2681.
“Specifically, I am concerned over the general stereotyping that would occur when religious actors are trying to determine if a person falls within the confines of their ‘sincerely-held religious beliefs,’” Bruner said. “ How can we prove who truly fits in with our beliefs and who does not? Due to our not-so-distant history of government-backed discrimination, it is my sincerely-held belief that bills of this nature have no place in our community.”
The bill further states a person whose exercise of religion has been burdened or is likely to be burdened in violation of this section may assert that violation or impending violation as a claim or defense in a judicial proceeding, regardless of whether the state or a political subdivision of the state is a party to the proceeding.
Leslie Baker, MSU political science instructor, said she believes the bill will cost the taxpayers of Mississippi a lot of money in legal fees from resulting lawsuits.
“Could a Muslim professor refuse to teach Christian students at a public university because he thinks it’s against his religion to do that? Public universities are government agencies. Does he get fired if he doesn’t teach? What if your religion requires you to make human sacrifices? Can the government not try that person for murder then?” Baker said. “A strict reading of the bill implies that you can do what you want as long as you can show that it is within your religion.”
According to SB 2681, “State action or an action by any person based on state action shall not burden a person’s right to exercise of religion, even if the burden results from a rule of general applicability.”
Lynn Spruill, former city administrator, said Arizona was on the precipice of making this same mistake and the governor vetoed the measure. She said she hopes the state of Mississippi will turn away from such a statement the bill would make about who the state is and focus more on inclusion.
“There is a reason that corporate America believes enough in inclusion to have threatened Arizona were it to continue to support this same type of legislation. Large corporations understand the benefits to including diversity in their ranks,” Spruill said. “I hope the Mississippi legislature will reconsider any language that says that any Mississippian is deserving of disparate treatment by its citizen businesses.”