The [state] Senate on Tuesday passed the "Mississippi Church Protection Act" to allow armed security in churches, concealed carry without a permit and to provide for attempts to nullify federal regulations and executive orders that would limit gun rights. There was much debate. Sen. Hillman Frazier, D-Jackson, waved a sheathed sword and quoted Bible Scripture as he argued against passage of the bill. Proponents also quoted Scripture, and even the Five Man Electrical Band -- "signs, signs, everywhere signs" -- as they fended off an amendment to require churches with armed security to post signs.
First up from the God Machine this week is one of those rare stories that involves churches, politicians, and loaded firearms. The Clarion-Ledger in Jackson, Mississippi, reported this week:
Under state law, people in Mississippi already have immunity from prosecution if they use a gun to defend their home or if their personal safety is threatened, but one of the principal purposes of the Church Protection Act would be to expand these legal protections -- if someone were to use a gun to defend their house or worship, he or she would also be immune from criminal penalties.
Under the plan, ministries would "train members to carry guns and act as security guards during religious services," knowing that if they opened fire in defense of the church, they couldn't be prosecuted.
One Republican proponent in the state Senate told his colleagues, "This will allow a church to have a sergeant-at-arms to protect the church body, just like we have (in the Legislature)."
Of course, ordinarily, a sergeant-at-arms has a background in law enforcement.
Nevertheless, the Republican-led state Senate passed the bill, 36 to 14, though it differs from the House version and will need additional work before going to the governor for a signature. Given that the bill now includes a provision allowing residents to carry concealed guns without a permit -- a policy strongly opposed by the Mississippi Association of Chiefs of Police -- and a separate nullification measure related to federal policies the state may not like, there's a long way to go.
Nevertheless, the gun debate has evidently reached the point at which some lawmakers want armed guards to protect churches during services.
Also from the God Machine this week:
* An unfortunate effort in South Carolina: "Religious leaders are speaking out against a new South Carolina bill that would make faith-based groups who 'sponsor' refugee resettlement legally liable if an asylum-seeker commits a crime -- a move opponents say is just a thinly veiled attempt to discourage assisting Syrian refugees."
* Remember mega-church pastor Mark Driscoll? He's "the former pastor of Mars Hill Church in Seattle. At its peak, the church had more than a dozen locations and in excess of 12,000 weekly attenders. But in 2014, a string of scandals forced Driscoll to resign." Last week, he launched a new church in Scottsdale, Arizona.
* House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) said last week that he's traditionally given up various foods for Lent, but this year, "I gave up impatience and anxiety."