Mississippi religious law seen as polarizing by rights groups

(Image: If You're Buying, We're Selling campaign)

The "Mississippi Religious Freedom Restoration Act" signed last week by Gov. Phil Bryant is worrying civil liberties and lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender rights groups.

The Senate Bill 2681 will become law July 1 when it in enacted. It was passed by the Mississippi Senate by a vote of 48-0 and will also amend the state seal to include the phrase, "In God we trust."

Civil liberties and LGBT rights groups are opposing the bill, which they claim will legalize state-sanctioned discrimination against gays and lesbians.

Some conservative and religious groups, on the other hand, have praised the bill, saying it will ensure the unregulated practice of religion in the state without interference from the federal or state governments.

The bill is backed by the state's Pentecostals and Southern Baptists.

Opponents cite vague wording of the bill, which appears open to personal bias and misunderstanding.

The preamble states the purpose of the bill is "To provide that state action or an action by any person based on state action shall not burden a person's right to the exercise of religion."

The bill would require that "state action shall not burden a person's right to the exercise of religion" by compelling "any action contrary to a person's exercise of religion."

The bill defines "exercise of religion" to mean "the ability 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."

Opponents of the bill say this means a business could legally discriminate against LGBTs if it claims this discrimination is motivated by their "sincerely held religious belief."

They say the bill legitimizes discrimination and segregation in Mississippi state law.

Supporters have likened the bill to a zoning law that limits the location of a church, mosque or synagogue but places no restriction on the location of a secular business.

Opponents said the bill is similar to those in Kansas and Arizona that essentially legalizes segregation based on religion.

Opponents argue the bill is similar to one Republican Governor Jan Brewer of Arizona vetoed after business groups said it could hurt that state's economy.

The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) opposed the Mississippi bill, especially after the state senate refused to add language saying the law can't be used against anti-discrimination laws.

Press reports said many business owners in Mississippi, who support equal treatment for gays and lesbians, have displayed window stickers that declare: "We don't discriminate. If you're buying, we're selling."

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