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Mississippi governor signs bill allowing businesses to refuse service for "religious reasons"

[JURIST] Mississippi Governor Phil Bryant [official website] on Thursday signed the controversial Mississippi Religious Freedom Restoration Act [text, PDF] into law, which prevents the state from taking any legislative action that would place a "substantial burden" on a person's exercise of religion. The law also requires a showing that the particular means chosen are the least restrictive possible to promote the compelling interest. It purports to achieve these goals by creating a private right of action for any citizen who feels that their religious freedom has been impinged by government action, affording Article III standing [Constitution Center backgrounder] to such a person. Supporters of the bill have hailed [AP report] it as a necessary measure to prevent government intrusion into their religious lives. Opponents have compared the law to the recently-vetoed Arizona bill that would have authorized business owners to refuse service to individuals for religious reasons, fearing that the law will allow discrimination particularly against those of the LGBT community. However, some of the strongest language comparable to the Arizona bill was removed prior to the bill's presentation to the governor, although many opponents remain [Guardian report] wary of how it will ultimately be judicially applied. The law is slated to take effect on July 1.

Currently, eighteen states have passed [JURIST op-ed] their own religious freedom laws and debates over their efficacy, implications for minority groups, and questions of the motivations behind them have been heated. The Mississippi bill was passed [JURIST report] by healthy margins in both houses of the legislature on Wednesday. The Arizona bill widely decried as permitting religiously-motivated discrimination was vetoed by Governor Jan Brewer on February 27, just five days after [JURIST reports] passing the legislature. State-level religious freedom acts date back to the beginning of our nation, when the General Assembly of Virginia adopted its own religious freedom act in 1786.

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