Fifth Circuit Protects Religious Freedom in Mississippi

Protecting Freedom of Conscience from Religious Discrimination Act

The “Protecting Freedom of Conscience from Religious Discrimination Act” is now law in the state of Mississippi. The ruling comes from a three-judge panel after the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals lifted the 2016 injunction that prevented House Bill 1523 from becoming law last July.

“The plaintiffs have not shown an injury-in-fact caused by HB 1523 that would empower the district court or this court to rule on its constitutionality,” Judge Jerry E. Smith wrote in the ruling, which did not consider the merits of the law itself.

The bill states:

“AN ACT TO CREATE THE “PROTECTING FREEDOM OF CONSCIENCE FROM GOVERNMENT DISCRIMINATION ACT”; TO PROVIDE CERTAIN PROTECTIONS REGARDING A SINCERELY HELD RELIGIOUS BELIEF OR MORAL CONVICTION FOR PERSONS, RELIGIOUS ORGANIZATIONS AND PRIVATE ASSOCIATIONS; TO DEFINE A DISCRIMINATORY ACTION FOR PURPOSES OF THIS ACT; TO PROVIDE THAT A PERSON MAY ASSERT A VIOLATION OF THIS ACT AS A CLAIM AGAINST THE GOVERNMENT; TO PROVIDE CERTAIN REMEDIES; TO REQUIRE A PERSON BRINGING A CLAIM UNDER THIS ACT TO DO SO NOT LATER THAN TWO YEARS AFTER THE DISCRIMINATORY ACTION WAS TAKEN; TO PROVIDE CERTAIN DEFINITIONS; AND FOR RELATED PURPOSES.”

Opponents of the law say it is the nation’s most sweeping anti-LGBT religious exemption law, while supports believe it is necessary to protect freedom.

“The court did the right thing in finding that those who have challenged this law haven’t been harmed and, therefore, can’t try to take the law down,” said senior counsel Kevin Theriot of Alliance Defending Freedom, who defended the law as part of Gov. Phil Bryant’s legal team.

Reports find opponents are hopeful the law will hurt Mississippi.

“They hope something bad will happen to the state of Mississippi. They’re desperately hoping for that, and I would hope that perhaps they can assuage that anger,” Bryant said.

Some wonder why such a bill is necessary for conservative Mississippi. Leading legal scholars concur that conflicts between same-sex marriage and religious liberty are real and should be addressed through legislation.

Forest Thigpen, president of the Mississippi Center for Public Policy, said the battle certainly isn’t over, but at least for now, Mississippians are protected from potential government overreach.

“It protects businesses from government intervention in wedding-related activity,” Thigpen said. “It protects a wide variety of Mississippians.”

According to a Mason-Dixon Polling & Research, nearly two-thirds of Mississippi voters support HB 1523, a majority of every age group, both parties, races, sexes. More than 270 pastors signed a letter of support on the bill.

Rep. Andy Gipson, R-Braxton, was the main sponsor of HB 1523.


By Russ Jones

Russ Jones is a 25-year award-winning journalist, correspondent, media consultant and publisher of Oxford Family. He lives in Oxford, Mississippi with his wife Jackie. Together they have four children. You can follow Russ on Twitter @russjones60 and Oxford Family @OxfordFamilyMag.

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