Written by Don Byrd

MIssissippi’s controversial HB 1523  – the “Protecting Freedom of Conscience from Government Discrimination Act” – will remain in effect after the U.S. Supreme Court declined to hear the appeal of plaintiffs challenging it as unconstitutional. The 5th Circuit ruled last year that they lacked standing to bring suit, and thus the court did not address the underlying lawfulness of the statute, which prohibits the state from taking adverse action against a person or business acting in accordance with religious or moral beliefs that “marriage is or should be recognized as the union of one man and one woman; sexual relations are properly reserved to such a marriage; and male (man) or female (woman) refer to an individual’s immutable biological sex as objectively determined by anatomy and genetics at time of birth.”

A trial court judge previously ruled the law unconstitutional on the grounds that it circumvented the Supreme Court’s ruling in Obergefell and privileged certain religious beliefs above others.

Attorneys for the plaintiffs are emphasizing the procedural nature of the court’s decision, and reiterated their intent to challenge the constitutionality of the law. Here is an excerpt from the Sun Herald’s coverage:

“The Supreme Court’s decision not to review this case is not an endorsement of HB 1523 or the wave of similar discriminatory laws across the country, and it does not change what the Court clearly ruled in Obergefell v. Hodges, and more recently in Pavan v. Smith, that same-sex couples and their families should be treated like other families in this country and not to do so is harmful and unconstitutional,” Beth Littrell, attorney for Lambda Legal, said in a news release.

“ . . . We will keep fighting in Mississippi until we overturn this harmful law…

As the BJC’s Holly Hollman explained in a 2016 column, 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.