Mississippi Gov. Phil Bryant (R) signed a religious freedom bill Thursday that allows citizens to sue over anti-discrimination laws they feel they impinge upon their religious beliefs.
The bill, the Mississippi Religious Freedom Restoration Act, will be law on July 1 and adds “In God We Trust” to the state seal.
More than 75 gay rights groups protested the bill. Founder of the Mississippi Gulf Coast Lesbiand and Gay Community Center Jeff White said the law nullifies antidiscrimination laws.
"It's the first time in my life that I've actually considered moving out of Mississippi," said White. "It made me physically ill the past few days, realizing what they're trying to do."
Bryant signed the bill into law within hours of receiving it. It guarantees freedom of religion without government interference. Therefore government cannot put a substantial burden on the practice of religion. For instance, zoning laws can’t limit the location of a church or any place of worship, if secular businesses are not similarly limited.
An early version of the bill was similar to Arizona’s religious freedom bill, which Gov. Jan Brewer (R) vetoed weeks ago. Rather than outright permitting businesses to discriminate against gay customers, the law allows the business to sue for their right to discriminate.
President of the conservative Family Research Council Tony Perks applauded the measure.
“This is a victory for the First Amendment and the right to live and work according to one’s conscience,” Perkins said in a statement. “This commonsense measure was a no-brainer for freedom, and like the federal [Religious Freedom Restoration Act], it simply bars government discrimination against religious exercise. The legislature gave strong approval to a bill that declares that individuals do not have to trade their religious freedom for entrance into public commerce.”
“We remain hopeful that courts throughout the state will reject any attempts to use religion to justify discrimination,” Morgan Miller, communications director of the Mississippi ACLU, said in a statement. “Nobody should be refused service because of who they are.”