The “license to discriminate” provision of Senate Bill 2681 was removed Wednesday and replaced with a “Religious Freedom Study Committee” by the Mississippi State House. The change occurred because Republican leadership believed the bill did not have enough support to pass the House.
The committee, set to meet by June, will study whether or not a version of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (as the bill was originally called) can be crafted without the element of discrimination.
Mounting pressure from the business community, from constituents, from religious leaders, and from LGBT rights and other prominent organizations greatly diminished support for a bill that likely would’ve passed otherwise. Opponents believed the bill would’ve legalized anti-LGBT discrimination on the basis of religion like the bill that Gov. Jan Brewer vetoed in Arizona last month.
SB 2681 still retains the section that would amend the Mississippi state seal to add “In God We Trust,” as promised by Gov. Phil Bryant in his January State of the State Address.
Before the change to the bill was announced, the Jackson Free Press tweeted that Judiciary B Chairman Andy Gipson was concerned that there would not be enough votes for the bill to pass on the House floor. After the changes were announced, the bill passed by a vote of 80-37.
“We need to further study this issue,” Gipson said. “This issue is too important to let this bill die.”
Instead of stripping away all of the religious freedom language and making it only a bill to change the state seal, GOP leadership sought to placate conservatives on the religious right who backed the discriminatory aspect of the bill.
SB 2681 returns to the Senate, where the Senate can either kill it, agree with it, or seek to negotiate a reconciliation between it and the version it passed in February.
What this means is that some form of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act will likely come back before the Mississippi legislature, even if the Senate concurs with the House changes. But for now, LGBT and civil rights groups are breathing a sigh of relief.