Lawmakers approved a request by Mississippi Gov. Phil Bryant to add “In God We Trust” to the state seal.
The Mississippi Religious Freedom Restoration Act passed the state Senate 48-0 on Friday, with four senators absent, and moves on to the House of Representatives for more work.
The bill’s chief sponsor, Republican Sen. Phillip Gandy, said the measure is intended to address the perception by some Christians that their right to practice religion is being inhibited by the government, although he admitted he hadn’t heard of any examples of the state doing so.
“Times are changing, and Christians are afraid of a lot of different things, and some of that is reality, possibly, and some is perception,” said Gandy, who is also minister of Liberty Baptist Church in Waynesboro. “But we want to do what we can.”
The broadly worded measure prohibits the government from placing a “burden” on a person’s free exercise of religion, which the measure defines as action or inaction that is substantially motivated by sincerely held religious beliefs — even if those beliefs are not compulsory or central to the person’s professed faith.
The Clarion-Ledger reported that some senators pointed out during the debate that freedom of religion was already guaranteed under the U.S. Constitution.
“We haven’t seceded from the Union, have we?” said Democratic Sen. David Jordan, a self-described “foot-stomping, back-slapping Baptist.”
Another Democratic senator asked whether the bill would offer legal protections for Muslims who stop work to face Mecca and pray or religious groups that require members to wear head coverings.
“This bill applies to all religions, including Islam, Buddhism and New Age religions,” said Sen. Hob Bryan. “We need to think carefully about the implications of it.”
The Republican lawmaker who was explaining the bill told Bryan that state or local government officials would need a compelling reason to block specific religious practices.
But another Republican, Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves, offered a more candid explanation of the bill’s real intent on his personal Facebook page.
“The United States is a Christian nation, and nowhere is that reflected more than in Mississippi,” Reeves posted.
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