Leaders support amendments to controversial bill
By Dwayne Bremer
Feb 28, 2014, 18:38
Local state legislators said Friday that they would support amendments to the controversial Senate Bill 2681, which is currently being discussed in a house subcommittee.
The state senate last month passed Bill 2681, commonly referred to as the Freedom of Religion Restoration Act, by a 48-0 vote.
In recent weeks, the bill has received sharp criticism, especially from the state's gay and lesbian community.
One of the chief points of contention with the bill is language which states a person has the right to "act or refuse to act in a manner that is substantially motivated by one's sincere held religious beliefs."
Some have said this language leaves the door open for citizens and business owners to refuse to serve certain people just because they believe their lifestyles go against other's religious beliefs.
Jeff White, the president of the Mississippi Gulf Coast Lesbian and Gay Community Center, said Thursday that bill could open the door for many types of discrimination, not just against gay people.
"The language is so broad that it leaves the door open for a lot of things," White said. "Why would they want to create something that is going to cause more issues than it solves?"
Legislators said Friday they did not intend for the bill to be used to discriminate against anyone.
District 46 State Sen. Philip Moran (R), said the main part of the bill, in his opinion, focuses on putting the words "In God we trust" on the state seal.
"It certainly was not presented as it is being perceived," Moran said. "The most important part is putting 'in God we trust' on the state seal. I believe the House is going to take out most of the language and send it back to us. I am not in favor of anything that discriminates against anyone."
District 122 Rep. David Baria (D), said Friday that he, too, hopes the bill is amended.
"I don't know the extent of what they are discussing in committee, but I have problems with the way it's worded right now," Baria said.
District 95 Rep. Patricia Willis (R) sits on the House Judicial B committee, where the bill will be debated.
Willis said the committee is considering all input on how to handle the bill.
"I believe in people's right to freedom of religion, but I do not want to do anything that is going to allow people to discriminate against others," Willis said.
Willis said the bill is currently in a subcommittee. Once it is finished in the subcommittee, it will be presented to her committee, and then to the full House.
If the bill is amended and approved by the House, it will be returned to the Senate for approval.
If the Senate approves the measure, it will then be sent to Gov. Phil Bryant for approval or veto.
Earlier this week, Arizona's Gov. Jan Brewer vetoed a bill which many considered similar to Mississippi's bill.