Mississippi Governor Phil Bryant signed the Mississippi Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) into law late last week which was passed overwhelmingly by the state legislature in order to protect the rights of Christians and other people of faith from any law that violates their right to the free exercise of their religion.
Reuters is reporting that the RFRA (SB 2681) passed in the Mississippi House by a vote of 79-43 and in the Senate by 37-14, making the state the 19th to enact such a law. It gives citizens of faith the right to legally challenge any state action that places a substantial burden on their free exercise of religion.
“State action or an action by any person based on state action shall not burden a person’s right to exercise of religion, even if the burden results from a rule of general applicability,” the Act reads. The only exception is if the action has a compelling government interest and is the least restrictive means of furthering that interest.
The free exercise of religion is defined in the bill as “the ability to act or the refusal to act in a manner that is substantially motivated by one’s sincerely held religious belief, whether or not the exercise is compulsory or central to a larger system of religious belief.”
Mississippi’s law is closely based on a federal law of the same name which was introduced by now U.S. Senator (then U.S. Representative) Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) and former U.S. Sen. Ted Kennedy (D-Mass.) and was passed into law by President Bill Clinton in 1993.
Critics of the law say it legalizes discrimination by giving businesses the right to refuse service based on religious objections, such as when a Christian baker or photographer refuses to lend their services to same-sex “weddings”.
The same arguments were used to shut down similar efforts in other states, such as in Arizona, Georgia, Idaho, Maine and Ohio.
Family Research President Tony Perkins was in attendance at the April 3 signing of the bill and applauded the courage of lawmakers to stand up for religious freedom.
“Unfortunately, too often in today’s political world, courage is in short supply,” Perkins said.
“Those who understand the importance and cherish the historic understanding of religious freedom are grateful for leaders who respond to fact and not fictitious claims of those who are trying to quarantine faith within the walls of our churches or homes. Some things are worth standing and contending for, and at the top of that list is our First Freedom, the freedom of religion.”
The new law will also add the national motto, “In God We Trust” to the state’s seal. IT goes into effect on July 1.
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