JACKSON, MS, April 4, 2014 (LifeSiteNews.com) — Despite pressure from gay-rights activists, Mississippi Gov. Phil Bryant signed into law this week a religious freedom law that would protect business owners from lawsuits should they refuse to partake in activity contrary to their beliefs. The state becomes the 19th to enact a such a law since 1996.
After attending the signing ceremony, Family Research Council President Tony Perkins thanked Bryant and other political leaders in the state “for their leadership in defending religious freedom and for refusing to cower to egregious misrepresentations of a fair and reasonable religious liberty measure.” Perkins said the measure “prevents the government from discriminating against religion.”
The law, which guarantees religious liberty to business owners, among others, is part of a backlash in some states against lawsuits that have pressured businesses run by Christians in recent years. Many on both sides of the law are comparing it to the Arizona bill that Gov. Jan Brewer recently vetoed. However, according to Reason.com's Scott Shackford, the Mississippi law is closer in style and effect to the federal Religious Freedom Restoration Act, which was passed on a bipartisan basis in 1993 and signed into law by Democratic President Bill Clinton. That law is part of the Hobby Lobby and Costenoga Wood lawsuits heard by the Supreme Court last week.
American Family Association President Tim Wildmon told LifeSiteNews that his organization is “very proud of the legislature and Gov. Phil Bryant for this law. Business owners who have religious convictions against homosexual ‘marriage’ should not be forced to participate in those ceremonies or else be penalized by the government.”
“We hope to see other states pass similar laws protecting religious freedom,” said Wildmon.
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Travis Weber, J.D., director of the Center for Religious Liberty at the Family Research Council, was similarly pleased with the measure. “This law very clearly protects against government regulation, not interactions between fellow citizens. The law simply prevents the government from discriminating against religion,” he told LifeSiteNews.com.
“The First Amendment protects the rights of all to publicly express their opinions, with few exceptions, regardless of who they may offend,” continued Weber. “Should Americans wish to start restricting the rights of their fellow citizens to hold their own views (even when even-handedly presented), we had all better take note at the sad state to which we have fallen.”
Shackford, who describes himself as “not religious,” told LifeSiteNews that the law is “about freedom of association. People have the right to choose who they associate with as employers, customers, and business owners.”
“I, as a non-religious person, I don't see a difference between a person wanting to use their freedom of association for religious or non-religious reasons,” Shackford said. “That means a business should be able to make decisions based on the religious beliefs of the owners, or other reasons. If a bakery doesn't want to make a cake for a gay couple, it shouldn't have to. It shouldn't be forced to bake a cake for anyone, for any reason,” he argued.
“I believe religious freedom and freedom of expression are under the same umbrella,” Shackford stated. “There's a reason all of these different items are part of the First Amendment. They're all part of freedom of association — the ability to align yourself with beliefs and not have the government interfere — whether those beliefs are religious, political, philosophical, etc.”
A number of media sources are calling Mississippi's law “anti-gay.” While the law, like Arizona's vetoed bill, was created as a reaction to efforts against religious freedom by homosexual activists, it generally guarantees the First Amendment freedoms business owners and others possess. The law does not target homosexuals.