JACKSON, Miss. (AP) — The Mississippi Senate voted Friday to add "In God We Trust" to the state seal, as requested by Republican Gov. Phil Bryant.
Currently, it has an eagle and the words, "The Great Seal of the State of Mississippi" without a slogan.
Senate Bill 2681 passed the Senate 48-0, with four senators absent. It moves to the House for more work.
The bill is called the "Mississippi Religious Freedom Restoration Act," and it says government may not burden a person's right to practice religion.
Its chief sponsor is Republican Sen. Phillip Gandy, who's minister of Liberty Baptist Church in Waynesboro. Gandy said he has heard no examples of Mississippi government trying to limit religion, but he has talked to some conservative Christians — particularly Pentecostals and Baptists — who are concerned.
"Times are changing, and Christians are afraid of a lot of different things. And some of that is reality, possibly, and some is perception. But we want to do what we can," Gandy told The Associated Press after the bill passed.
Some senators, including Democrat David Jordan of Greenwood, pointed out during the debate that the U.S. Constitution already guarantees freedom of religion.
"We haven't seceded from the Union, have we?" asked Jordan, who described himself as a "foot-stomping, back-slapping Baptist."
Sen. Hob Bryan, D-Amory, asked during the debate if the bill would protect Muslims stopping work to face Mecca and pray, or to some religious groups requiring members to wear certain types of head coverings.
Senate Universities and Colleges Committee Chairman John Polk, R-Hattiesburg, who was explaining the bill, said state or local government would have to have a compelling reason to try to block specific religious practices.
Bryan, who's Baptist, said after the bill passed: "This bill applies to all religions, including Islam, Buddhism and New Age religions. We need to think carefully about the implications of it."
According to Senate records, the four absent senators were President Pro Tempore Terry Brown of Columbus, who is undergoing cancer treatments; and fellow Republicans Eugene "Buck" Clarke of Hollandale, Chris McDaniel of Ellisville and Melanie Sojourner of Natchez.