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Mississippi’s Religious Exemption Law May Head to Supreme Court

December 15th, 2017

A bakery owner refused to make a cake for a same-sex couple due to his religious beliefs.

A bakery owner refused to make a cake for a same-sex couple due to his religious beliefs.

Mississippi’s HB 1523 is a religious exemption law that passed in 2016 as a response to the US Supreme Court’s 2015 decision to allow same-sex couples to marry nationwide.  It is a virulently anti-LGBTQ law that allows both government workers and private companies to refuse to offer their services to LGBTQ individuals on the basis of religious beliefs.

In an effort to block the law, a group including the Campaign for Southern Equality filed a lawsuit in district court which resulted in a preliminary injunction, preventing the Mississippi law from going into effect. In that 2016 order, U.S. District Judge Carlton W. Reeves found that the law violates the Equal Protection Clause and the Establishment Clause of the United States Constitution, as it favors the beliefs of some religious groups over others and violates the rights of  LGBTQ Mississippians.

The Importance of the Campaign for Southern Equality’s Case

This Mississippi law has been recognized as the most far-reaching religious exemption law enacted by any state in several years. Religious exemption laws (also known as religious freedom laws) are laws that grant people with certain religious beliefs exemption from non-discrimination laws. The Mississippi law in question gives special protections to three specific religious beliefs: marriage is the union of one man and one woman, sexual relations are properly reserved to such a marriage, and male or female refer to an individual’s immutable biological sex as objectively determined by anatomy and genetics at birth. Businesses, government employees, adoption agencies, landlords and anyone who holds these views are given license to discriminate against LGBTQ people in Mississippi. Given the severity of Mississippi’s law, many individuals have recognized this challenge as the best opportunity to overturn religious exemption laws.

Supporters of the Mississippi Religious Exemption Law

Supporters of this Mississippi law argue that it protects religious people from being punished for refusing to participate in activities they consider to be immoral, such as same-sex marriage. In June of this year, a unanimous three-judge panel of the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals found that the plaintiffs in the case lacked standing to sue because they hadn’t proven that they would be harmed by the law if it were allowed to go into effect.

What You Should Know About Mississippi’s Anti-LGBTQ Law

Mississippi’s House Bill 1523 permits companies to refuse services to people who identify as LGBTQ on the basis of religious belief.

Under this law, clerks in the state are permitted to refuse to issue marriage licenses to same sex couples provided that doing so violates that worker’s religious beliefs.

Additionally, under the law, companies are permitted to refuse to provide goods or services to LGBTQ individuals if doing so violates the company’s religious beliefs.

Understanding the Advancement of LGBTQ Rights

There have been a slow series of advancements in rights for LGBTQ individuals in the last few decades. While some individuals assume that the Supreme Court’s 2015 decision in Obergefell v Hodges that granted marriage rights to LGBTQ individuals across the country also outlawed discrimination in other areas, most states still lack non-discrimination protections for LGBTQ people and there is no federal law prohibiting discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity. The Fifth Circuit recently declined to re-hear this case before all members of the Court, so now the plaintiffs are asking the U.S. Supreme Court to step in and grant them standing to dispute the constitutionality of Mississippi’s HB 1523.

The Universal Life Church’s blog has chronicled many of these recent struggles including inequalities in financial, insurance, and property rights for people who identify as LGBTQ. Our blog aims to describe these developments in an informative and entertaining way that explains the significance of developments in major LGBTQ issues. In the case of this challenge to Mississippi’s law, the Campaign for Southern Equality has the potential to prevent anti-LGBTQ discrimination from being codified in state law.

(image courtesy of Marcie Douglass)

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