- The Magazine
Mississippi Gov. Phil Bryant’s legal team is defending a “religious freedom” bill that seeks to allow discrimination against LGBT people by arguing it is Christians who are being persecuted for their beliefs, and that being gay or transgender is a choice. In a brief submitted to the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, lawyers defending the Magnolia State also insist that the law, HB 1523, does not violate the First Amendment by favoring one set of beliefs over another.
As first reported by Slate magazine, the attorneys appointed by Bryant to defend the law offer several arguments that contradict the text of the bill in order to justify its legality. Chief among those arguments is that the bill does not violate the First Amendment because it does not “endorse a specific religious belief.” However, the text of the bill singles out three beliefs in particular that are worthy of protection under the law: 1) that marriage should be only recognized as the union of one man and one woman; 2) that sexual relations are properly reserved only to a marriage of a man and a woman; and 3) that the terms “man” and “woman” refer to a person’s biological or assigned sex at birth.
Additionally, Bryant’s legal team argues, the court should not take into account the fact that legislators who voted for HB 1523 cited their religious beliefs as justification for the law, arguing “it is common and perfectly constitutional for individual lawmakers to invoke Christian doctrine as a reason for supporting a law.”
The state’s attorneys also claim that opponents of HB 1523 are exaggerating the effect that it would have on LGBT people’s lives. Rather, they argue “federal courts must defer to limiting constructions of statutes adopted by state officials and the lawyers who represent them in court.”
“The plaintiffs make false and exaggerated claims about the scope of HB1523 — asserting, for example, that the statute will allow restaurants and taxi-cab drivers to turn away homosexual couples and allow businesses to deny services to any opposite-sex couple that ever had sex before marriage,” the state’s brief says. “The plaintiffs’ efforts to misrepresent the scope of HB1523 are understandable; others have successfully used tactics of this sort to derail religious-freedom legislation proposed in other states.”
In essence, the lawyers for the state argue, it must be left to Mississippi officials to reasonably interpret and enforce the law.
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