The Arizona-like “religious liberty” bill wending its way through the Mississippi House (SB 2681), which had the potential to legalize anti-LGBT discrimination by businesses, experienced a serious setback Wednesday afternoon. The House voted to strike all of the “religious liberty” text and instead create a study committee to investigate how to pass such a bill in the future. The bill also retained its language adding “In God We Trust” to the state seal. The amended version passed 80-37.
This leaves the fate of the bill in question. If it goes to conference between the House and Senate, the problematic language could be added back to it. In addition, the new study committee could meet in the near future and offer some version of the bill quite soon. Lawmakers with concerns about the original language pointed out that the study committee might very well investigate new ways to create the same “license to discriminate” that led to their objections in the first place.
The primary problem with passing religious freedom legislation in Mississippi is that state law already defines a “person” to include businesses. Thus, granting “religious freedom” to individuals that they not be burdened by government policy would also apply to businesses. A business owner could then attempt to justify discrimination by citing her religious beliefs. Many Mississippi religious leaders opposed the bill, suggesting lawmakers’ efforts “eerily echo Jim Crow laws that robbed African Americans of their basic human dignity.”
With Mississippi and Arizona, a total of 11 different states have proposed bills this year that would have allowed religion to be used to discriminate, but 10 of those have stalled or failed outright. Missouri’s is the only such bill that is still under consideration.