The “right to discriminate” remains intact in a proposed amended version of a Mississippi bill that some are calling the state’s “Turn Away the Gays” bill. The House Judiciary B Civil Subcommittee’s amended version of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act does little to remove the problematic elements of the bill that had gay rights activists in full revolt Wednesday.
The bill, obtained by Deep South Progressive, still says that state action cannot “compel any action contrary to a person’s exercise of religion” and continues to define “exercise of religion” to mean “the ability to act or the refusal to act in a manner that is substantially motivated by one’s sincerely held religious belief.”
Those key parts of the bill, which LGBT activists feared would legitimize discrimination by businesses that claim “sincerely held religious belief” as the motivating factor, remain unchanged. That’s contrary to previous reports that said the bill had been amended to only include the section that would add “In God We Trust” to the Mississippi state seal.
Despite that, leaders of the state business community were declaring victory Wednesday night, saying that the bill addressed the concerns of the business community. The Mississippi Economic Council (MEC), said that SB 2681, as amended, “provides both positive clarification and focused direction so that the amended bill addresses only actions by government, not private businesses or individuals.”
MEC was referring to the most substantial change to the bill, a new clause added to the end of Section 1, which states: “(4) Nothing in this act shall create any rights by an employee against an employer if the employer is not a governmental agency.”
“MEC opposes efforts that would intentionally or unintentionally prevent Mississippi businesses from implementing and enforcing non-discrimination policies impacting their customers and employees,” MEC said in the press release.
While that new language would preserve the rights of businesses to enact non-discrimination policies, it would not prevent them from also enacting discriminatory policies where a “sincerely held religious belief” was present.
The MEC credited Judiciary B Chairman Andy Gipson for the changes.
“We do believe there are more questions on the bill, and we will research and study to make sure we have a well-researched approach,” the Clarion-Ledger reported Gipson as saying.
The House Committee will not be voting on the bill today as previously scheduled. Sources say legislators are still arguing over the language of the bill, but the committee must vote if it is to move the bill forward by the deadline Tuesday.