How Gov. Phil Bryant Just Ruined His Chances for Re-Election

In Mississippi politics there is one sin that a Republican cannot commit.   A Mississippi Republican may not, under any circumstance, side with national Democratic leaders on any social issue.

Around here, most people are not too fond of Washington liberals.   If a Republican candidate ever sides with, let’s say, Nancy Pelosi on a social issue, his opponent will eat him alive.  In very short order, TV spots will run showing the Mississippi Republican and his Washington liberal “friend” side-by-side, with a voice-over describing just how closely the two politicians are.

Guilt by association.  That is how politics works.

As one who enjoys watching negative ads, I feel compelled to point out that my governor, Phil Bryant, has just sided with Vice President Joe Biden on a controversial social issue.

You heard me right…  Phil Bryant is now “friends” with Joe Biden.

Let’s go back to 1990.  Joe Biden was a senator from Delaware.  On October 26, 1990, then-Sen. Biden introduced a certain piece of legislation.  The future Vice-President described the bill as follows:

Today I am introducing legislation to restore the previous rule of law, which required the Government to justify restrictions on religious freedom.  The Religious Freedom Restoration Act of 1990 would allow Government to restrict religious freedom only if the restriction is a general law that does not intentionally discriminate against religion.  The Government will also have to show a compelling State interest in enforcing the law and that it has chosen the least restrictive way to further its interest.

Although Mr. Biden’s bill failed, it was reintroduced by Sen. Ted Kennedy in 1993 (a copy of the bill along with his remarks are here.)  With backing from the ACLU, as well as support from liberal senators such as Diane Feinstein, the bill passed both Houses of Congress.  It was then sent to President Bill Clinton, who signed it into law.

Today, Gov. Phil Bryant has followed the lead of prominent liberals, such as Joe Biden, Diane Feinstein, Bill Clinton, and the ACLU, by enacting into law SB 2681 (“The Mississippi Religious Freedom Restoration Act”).  Read Section 1 carefully, and you will see just how closely this bill tracks the bill introduced by Sen. Kennedy in 1993.


(1)  This act shall be known and may be cited as the Mississippi Religious Freedom Restoration Act.

(2)  The Mississippi Legislature finds the following:

(a)  The framers of the Constitution, recognizing free exercise of religion as an unalienable right, secured its protection in the First Amendment to the Constitution;

(b)  Laws “neutral” toward religion may burden religious exercise as surely as laws intended to interfere with religious exercise;

(c)  Government should not substantially burden religious exercise without compelling justification;

(d)  In Employment Division v. Smith,494 U.S. 872 (1990), the United States Supreme Court virtually eliminated the requirement that the government justify burdens on religious exercise imposed by laws neutral toward religion; and

(e)  The compelling interest test as set forth in prior federal court rulings is a workable test for striking sensible balances between religious liberty and competing prior governmental interests.

(3)  The purposes of this section are as follows:

(a)  To restore the compelling interest test as set forth in Sherbert v. Verner,374 U.S. 398 (1963), and Wisconsin v. Yoder, 406 U.S. 205 (1972), and to guarantee its application in all cases where free exercise of religion is substantially burdened; and

(b)  To provide a claim or defense to persons whose religious exercise is substantially burdened by government.

(4)  As used in this section, the following words shall have the following meanings:

(a)  “Government” means any branch, department, agency, instrumentality or political subdivision of the State of Mississippi and any official or other person acting under color of law of the State of Mississippi.

(b)  “Demonstrates” means to meet the burdens of going forward with the evidence and of persuasion.

(c)  “Exercise of religion” means the exercise of religion under the First Amendment to the Constitution.

(5) (a)  Government shall not substantially burden a person’s exercise of religion even if the burden results from a rule of general applicability, except as provided in paragraph (b) of this subsection.

(b)  Government may substantially burden a person’s exercise of religion only if it demonstrates that application of the burden to the person:

(i)  Is in furtherance of a compelling governmental interest; and

(ii)  Is the least restrictive means of furthering that compelling governmental interest.

(6)  A person whose religious exercise has been burdened in violation of this section may assert that violation as a claim or defense in a judicial proceeding and obtain appropriate relief against the government, as defined by subsection (4) of this section.  Standing to assert a claim or defense under this section shall be the same as the general rules of standing under Article III of the United States Constitution.

(7) (a)  This section applies to all state laws, rules, regulations and any municipal or county ordinances, rules or regulations and the implementation of those laws, whether statutory or otherwise, and whether adopted before or after the enactment of this section.

(b)  Any such law, rule, regulation or ordinances adopted after the effective date of this section shall be subject to this section unless such law explicitly excludes such application by reference to this section.

(8)  Nothing in this act shall be construed to authorize any government to burden any religious belief.

(9)  Nothing in this section shall be construed to affect, interpret, or in any way address that portion of the First Amendment prohibiting laws respecting the establishment of religion.  Granting government funding, benefits, or exemptions, to the extent permissible under the Establishment Clause, shall not constitute a violation of this section.  As used in this subsection, the term “granting,” used with respect to government funding, benefits, or exemptions, does not include the denial of government funding, benefits, or exemptions.

(10)  Nothing in this act shall create any rights by an employee against an employer if the employer is not the government.

Notice how Subsection 5(a) tracks the federal law almost verbatim.  There is no substantive difference between Section 1 of the Mississippi Religious Freedom Restoration Act and the federal version.

I don’t know how Gov. Bryant is going to live this down… actually enacting into law a bill that the ACLU once supported.  That’s going to be a really tough sell.