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Mississippi Lawmakers Pass Controversial Religious Freedom Bill

By Jeffrey Hess | Published 01 Apr 2014 09:04pm | comments

Mississippi lawmakers have passed the final version of a bill that says state and local governments cannot put a substantial burden on religious practices. MPB's Jeffrey Hess reports lawmakers spoke passionately for and against the bill....

The concern among opponents is that the bill would open the door to discrimination of all kinds if someone claims a religious reason for doing so.

The bill, S-B 2681, sparked an emotional debate in the senate with legislators on both sides of the issue referencing Mississippi's  troubled racial history and Jim Crow.

Senator Kenny Wayne Jones of Canton, an African-American, displayed a series of signs reading 'no gays allowed', 'no blacks allowed' and 'no Christians allowed' warning that could be the future under the bill.

"We have seen these signs in the state of Mississippi. We have always seen them. And you are right, if I constitute in my heart, from what this says right here, and I sincerely believe. Than it shows you right there what is racist," Jones said.

One of the bill's main sponsors Senator Phillip Gandy of Waynesboro defended the legislation, saying he was raised during Jim Crow but arguing this bill is a defense of religious freedom, not a return to legalized discrimination.

"Mississippi, I know, has a past. And as I told you there are some scars that are probably not going to heal. But by the grace of God I hope that you and I can work together, love each other, and walk together and get beyond some of this stuff. And all I ask for you is your respect for me as a bible believing Christian," Gandy said.

In the end, both chambers passed the bill meaning it could soon be on Governor Phil Bryant's desk.

The bill was revived after heavy pressure from the Mississippi Baptist Convention including a letter that appeared to be a veiled threat against law makers who opposed the legislation.

Reverend Jimmy Porter with the convention says the bill is the right step for the state.

"We feel like it is a good bill. A real good bill. That will provide religious freedom for all religions. Not just Baptist, Methodist, or Presbyterian but for all religions. And we are happy about that," Porter said.

In addition to the religious freedom language, the bill adds 'in god we trust' to the state seal.

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