THE US state of Mississippi quietly passed an Arizona-style “religious freedom” bill overnight, which could allow state residents to sue over laws that they believe put a burden on their religious practices and beliefs.

While supporters of the legislation have stated it would protect religious freedoms, LGBTI activists have warned it could be used to legally allow discrimination against their community in the name of religion.

A similar bill had passed Arizona’s government earlier this year, but Governor Jan Brewer vetoed it after it protests and heavy criticism from LGBTI and human rights groups, corporate business owners and US Senators both Democrat and Republican.

However, unlike the Arizona version, there are reports that the Mississippi bill is expected to be signed off by Governor Phil Bryant.

The bill had been shelved after two earlier versions missed deadlines. Opponents of these versions dubbed it as a “turn away the gays” bill as it allowed business owners to refuse service to LGBTI people or interracial couples on religious grounds.

The third version, which was resurrected last week in a conference committee, saw much of the original wording removed.

Mississippi’s House and Senate, both of which are controlled by Republicans, then passed it by wide margins.

Similar bills are pending in the states of Missouri and Oklahoma, where legislators are expected to debate them in coming months. North Carolina is also likely to bring up a religious freedom measure next month.

Religious freedom laws are on the books in 18 US states, and until earlier this year, when the Arizona measure sparked outrage, few politicians raised any objections to the measures. When the Mississippi version passed the Senate for the first time in January, before Arizona’s bill attracted worldwide controversy, every member voted in favour of it.

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