Summary: An appeals court in Mississippi said that HB 1523 does not harm the state’s citizens.
The law, House Bill 1523, allows businesses and government employees to cite religious beliefs to justify the denial of services to same-sex couples and transgendered individuals. A three-judge panel of the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals overturned a previous judge’s decision to strike down the law, and the law’s opponents have pledged to appeal again.
The law will not take place immediately; and during this grace period, plaintiffs have the ability to appeal. Two attorneys representing some of the plaintiffs have already said they are planning to do so.
The panel reversed U.S. District Judge Carlton Reeves’ decision from July. Judge Reeves said that the law was unconstitutional because it favored one religion and created unequal treatment of LGBT people. However, the 5th circuit judges did not rule on the law’s constitutionally. Instead, they focused on whether or not the plaintiffs proved they would be harmed, and the panel said that no such harm was proven.
Plaintiffs’ attorney Robert McDuff criticized the appeals panel to the Clarion Ledger.
“We believe the 5th Circuit panel is wrong and intend to seek further review, perhaps from the full 5th Circuit and definitely from the United States Supreme Court,” McDuff said. “People should not have to live through discrimination in order to challenge this obviously unconstitutional bill. Even though the injunction has been reversed for now, I am pleased that we were able to stop the bill from being implemented thus far. Hopefully, our efforts to seek further review will prevent it from going into effect in the future.”
Attorney Roberta Kaplan, who also represented some of the plaintiffs, said that there was a clear harm that the panel had overlooked.
“The state communicated a message loudly and clearly with the passage of HB 1523: Only certain anti-LGBT beliefs will get the protection and endorsement of the state,” Kaplan said to Fox News. “Under the logic of this opinion, it would be constitutional for the state of Mississippi to pass a law establishing Southern Baptist as the official state religion.”
HB 1523 was endorsed and signed in 2016 by Mississippi Governor Phil Bryant, a Republican. He said that the law protects three beliefs: marriage is only between a man and a woman; sex should only take place in such a marriage, and a person’s gender is determined at birth and cannot be altered.
“As I have said all along, the legislation is not meant to discriminate against anyone, but simply prevents government interference with the constitutional right to exercise sincerely held religious beliefs,” Bryant told Clarion Ledger.
According to Fox News, legal experts said that HB 1523 is the “broadest religious-objections measure enacted by any state.”
HB 1523 would allow clerks to recuse themselves from issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples if they cited religious objections. It would also protect merchants who refused to serve LGBT people.
Additionally, the bill could affect adoptions, school bathroom policies, foster care, and more.
Supporters of the bill said that it protects people’s right to live out their faith.
“The sole purpose of this law is to ensure that Mississippians don’t live in fear of losing their careers or their businesses simply for affirming marriage as a husband-wife union,” Kevin Theriot said Thursday. “Those who filed suit have not and will not be harmed but want to restrict freedom and impose their beliefs on others by ensuring dissenters are left open to the government discrimination that has already occurred in states without protective laws like this one.”
Theriot is an attorney with Alliance Defending Freedom, a Christian group that helped Mississippi draft HB 1523, which is also known as the “Protecting Freedom of Conscience from Government Discrimination Act.”
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