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April 21, 2014

Religious Freedom Bill Passes—With Drama


HSLDA Senior Counsel Dee Black assists members with questions and issues regarding Mississippi homeschool law. He and his wife homeschooled their children. Read more >>

On April 3, 2014, Mississippi joined 18 other states that have enacted statutes to protect religious freedom, but proponents of the legislation had to overcome an unexpected and vicious challenge in the process.

Senate Bill 2681, designated as the Mississippi Religious Freedom Restoration Act, prohibits the state from substantially burdening a person’s exercise of religion unless the state can prove that its action is in furtherance of a compelling governmental interest and is the least restrictive means of furthering that interest. This law mirrors the federal Religious Freedom Restoration Act passed by Congress in 1993 and signed into law by President Bill Clinton.

The Mississippi bill passed the Senate by a vote of 48-0 and went to the House of Representatives where a similar vote was expected. But that’s when things got interesting. Due to the lobbying efforts of the ACLU and others who contended that this bill was nothing more than a “license to discriminate” against homosexuals, likening it to the bill that was vetoed by the governor of Arizona recently, the House amended the bill to only create a committee to study the issue. The bill then went back to the Senate which refused to adopt the House version, thereby setting up a conference committee from the House and Senate in an effort to reach a compromise before the March 31 deadline.

Working with the Mississippi Home Educators Association, Home School Legal Defense Association sent out an e-lert to our member families on March 28 asking them to contact their state senators and representatives and urge them to vote in favor of the Senate version of the bill. With only 13 minutes before the 8:00 p.m. deadline on March 31, the conference committee filed its report adopting the essential provisions of the Senate version. The next day, after considerable debate in the House, both the House and Senate voted by wide margins to pass the bill as reported by the conference committee. Governor Phil Bryant signed the bill two days later.

Given the rapidly changing political climate in our land as seen in the Mississippi experience, other states contemplating legislation that would restore religious freedom should move quickly to do so.

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