Metro Weekly

Mississippi’s “religious freedom” law now before 5th Circuit

Pro-LGBT groups file legal briefs arguing the law violates the First and Fourteenth Amendments

John Minor Wisdom Courthouse, home of the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals - Photo: Bobak Ha'Eri, via Wikimedia.
John Minor Wisdom Courthouse, home of the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals – Photo: Bobak Ha’Eri, via Wikimedia.

A Mississippi law that purports to protect people’s exercise of religion by allowing them to refuse goods or services to LGBT people or others who do not conform to prescribed sexual mores will soon be reviewed the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.

The law, HB 1523, was initially challenged by two separate lawsuits, which were later consolidated. Opponents of the law point out that not only does the law allow discrimination under the guise of “religious freedom,” but language in it prescribing a particular set of religious beliefs violates the First Amendment’s prohibition on the government endorsing or favoring a specific religion. They also argue it violates the guarantee of equal protection afforded to every citizen under the Fourteenth Amendment. U.S. District Judge Carlton Reeves of the Southern District of Mississippi agreed, finding the measure unconstitutional and issuing an preliminary injunction preventing the law from going into effect. 

The state appealed Reeves’ decision to the 5th Circuit, which is now taking up the case, known as Barber v. Bryant. In preparation for that, pro-LGBT organizations have begun filing legal briefs urging the court to uphold Reeves’ decision. 

“This law is a wolf in sheep’s clothing,” Susan Sommer, the director of constitutional litigation at Lambda Legal said in a statement. “It is LGBT discrimination disguised as religious freedom. The law sets an array of traps for LGBT people, from allowing government employees to refuse to serve them, to leaving LGBT youth in foster care unprotected from dangerous condemnation by the adults who are supposed to help them.”

The Campaign for Southern Equality, which is one of the plaintiffs in the lawsuit, also filed a brief making many of the same arguments.

“There’s no place for HB 1523 in the Hospitality State,” Alysson Mills of Fishman Haygood LLP, one of the lawyers representing the Campaign for Southern Equality and some of the other plaintiffs. “HB 1523 endorses certain religious beliefs over others, for the hurtful purpose of discriminating against our neighbors. It does not reflect the Mississippi that I know. The district court, like most Mississippians, saw HB 1523 for the unjust and unlawful act that it is. We trust the court of appeals will see it that way, too.”

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