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‘Religious Freedom’ Bill Scaled Back

By Jeffrey Hess | Published 05 Mar 2014 09:18am | comments

A bill that some say will add additional protections to religious Mississippians is on its way to the full house. MPB's Jeffrey Hess reports, the bill was scaled back after concerns were raised that it would lead to legalized discrimination of gay residents.

To put a face on the issue of Mississippians losing their freedom of religious expression, the House judiciary B panel brought in Telsa Deberry.

Deberry says he had to sue the city of Holly Springs in order to open church in a store front on the town square because of an ordinance that required churches to get the approval of near by property owners before opening....

"Just discriminatory and it needed to be addressed. because our vision wasn't to only plant ourselves but to grow and plant additional churches in the future. And it was just a restriction that was unfair," DeBerry said.

Supporters of the bill say it is people like Deberry they are seeking to protect from undue burdens on the freedom of religion.

But critics have been harsh on the bill and say it would have allowed legal discrimination of gay people.

In an attempt to ease those fears, the committee amended the bill to say state and local government cannot put a substantial burden on religious practices.

That is not enough for Todd Allen with the support group Parents and Friends of Lesbians and Gays, or PFLAG.....

"I think it is arbitrary. It is too broad. It can open up individuals to discrimination that is unconstitutional," Allen said.

The committee's chair Representative Andy Gipson of Braxton says the changes move it away from a similar bill that passed in Arizona which sparked the original backlash against it....

"it is not the Arizona bill. it is simply a religious protection bill. So it is not what people are saying it is. I don't think people have read the bill," Gipson said.

The Democratic minority leader is also critical of the changes saying it would put the state on the hook for expensive legal battles if government pass discriminatory laws.

It now moves to the full house for more consideration.

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