Mississippi Lawmakers Claim Ignorance to "Religious Freedom" Law's Potential for Discrimination

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Do rights have limits? The First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution guarantees freedom of expression, however, it is almost universally accepted that speech urging others to commit crimes—specifically violent crimes against an individual or group—is justly illegal. While technically limiting expression, the law serves to protect those who may be unwittingly harmed from expression that has malicious intent.

This mirrors the debate around controversial “Religious Freedoms” laws being consider in states in the U.S. Arizona Governor Jan Brewer vetoed a passed law on Wednesday that would have allowed business owners to deny service to LGBT customers based on their religious beliefs. A similar bill passed in Mississippi, only its anti-LGBT application is much more subtle.

SB 2681 is called “The Religious Freedom Act” and a quick read of the language of the bill would lead one to believe that this is one of those ceremonial laws because all it does is add “In God We Trust” to the State Seal. However it is the first line of the bill where the trouble lies, reading “…to provide that state action or an action by an person based on state action shall not burden a person’s right to the exercise of religion.”

Again, on the surface this would seem to simply reaffirm one of America’s most universal freedoms, one already protected by the First Amendment. However, what exactly constitutes a burden from the State? Well, one such burden might be law preventing discrimination against LGBT citizens.

Although, Sen. David Blount, a Democrat from Jackson, Miss., has said that he’s urging his colleagues to remove or redraft the language of the bill to ensure that it does not encourage discrimination. In the Miss. House, however, the Chariman of the Judiciary Committee is not wholly sold on the idea that the bill needs to be redone, telling the Associated Press, saying there are “questions” and that they “just need to study it.”