Written by Don Byrd

The 5th Circuit Court of Appeals has overturned a district court’s ruling that halted as unconstitutional Mississippi’s controversial HB 1523. The court did not address the central question of the constitutionality of the measure, which prohibits the state from taking adverse action against a person or business acting in accordance with certain religious beliefs. Instead, the appeals court found that the plaintiffs lack the standing to bring the suit in the first place, and dismissed it, reinstating the law.

On the question of standing, District Judge Carlton Reeves had agreed with the plaintiffs that the text of the law appears to endorse specific religious beliefs. As a result, he found that they suffered sufficient injury to qualify for standing due to the “psychological consequences stemming from the plaintiffs’ ‘exclusion or denigration on a religious basis within the political community.'” But the 5th Circuit appeals panel disagreed. 

Standing is not available to just any resident of a jurisdiction to challenge a government message without a corresponding action about a particular belief…

You can read the opinion here.

The plaintiffs announced their intention to ask for a review of this decision. Here is an excerpt from the Clarion-Ledger report:

Mississippi civil rights attorney Robert McDuff, the Mississippi Center for Justice and Lambda Legal brought the lawsuit on behalf of the plaintiffs and say they plan to appeal.

“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.

As the BJC’s Holly Hollman explained in a column last year, religious exemptions that aim to shield particular religious beliefs can be helpful legislative tools to protect religious liberty. But they should be “carefully crafted” and should be mindful of the impact those exemptions will have on the rights of others.