Meridian Star

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March 13, 2014

Miss. House keeps religious practices bill alive

JACKSON — JACKSON, Miss. (AP) — Mississippi House members want to study a much-disputed religious practices bill, keeping it alive for possible further action.

The House passed Senate Bill 2681 by an 80-37 vote Wednesday after it had been amended to call for a study panel of the combined House and Senate Judiciary committees. An amendment that inserts the phrase "In God We Trust" into the state seal passed intact.

House Judiciary B Committee Chairman Andy Gipson says the idea is to work toward an agreeable bill by the end of the 2014 Legislature.

"We need a well-reasoned bill that protects our religious freedom," Gipson said.

Gipson resorted to the study committee after supporters couldn't guarantee a majority vote for the bill Wednesday.

"This is not going to become law," he said. "This is an amendment to keep the bill alive."

House Speaker Philip Gunn, R-Clinton, endorsed the call for more study.

"We have had attorneys look at this bill, and they have differing views as to the legal impact of this bill," he said in a statement. "We have been diligently working to analyze all the concerns with this bill but simply have not had enough time to thoroughly scrutinize all the concerns that seem to surround this bill given that we only received it a short time ago."

Pressure has been building on Mississippi lawmakers since the original bill passed the Mississippi Senate on Jan. 31. It was similar to a measure that Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer vetoed last week. Critics said the Arizona measure could lead to discrimination against gay people and other groups by, for example, allowing a baker to refuse to make a cake for a same-sex couple.

Gipson's committee amended the Senate bill to remove sections that covered private businesses but said it was also important to protect religion.

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