Mississippi Religious Liberty Law Gets High Court Reprieve

Conscience protection bill provides a defense to lawsuits over Christian beliefs about marriage, sexuality.

The law went into effect in October after the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals reversed a lower court’s injunction and dismissed the lawsuit for lack of standing. The plaintiffs—a group including same-sex couples, the Campaign for Southern Equality, and a church—argued the law sent a “clear message” that is “hostile” to LGBT Mississippians and that it endorsed a specific religious belief in violation of the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution. But a three-judge appeals court panel unanimously ruled the plaintiffs failed to show the law had harmed them.

 

(WNS)–The U.S. Supreme Court opted Jan. 8 not to weigh in on a case challenging a new Mississippi law that provides a defense against adverse government action and private lawsuits over religious convictions about marriage, sexuality, and gender identity.

The law went into effect in October after the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals reversed a lower court’s injunction and dismissed the lawsuit for lack of standing. The plaintiffs—a group including same-sex couples, the Campaign for Southern Equality, and a church—argued the law sent a “clear message” that is “hostile” to LGBT Mississippians and that it endorsed a specific religious belief in violation of the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution. But a three-judge appeals court panel unanimously ruled the plaintiffs failed to show the law had harmed them.

“Future injuries can provide the basis for standing, but they ‘must be certainly impending to constitute injury in fact,’” Judge Jerry Smith wrote, citing legal precedent. “Allegations of possible future injury are not sufficient.”

The U.S. Supreme Court did not state why it declined to hear the case, as is customary.

Since the law went into effect, no one has filed a lawsuit claiming actual harm, Clay Chandler, a spokesman for Gov. Phil Bryant, told me. Bryant, a Republican, applauded the Supreme Court’s decision.

“As I have said from the beginning, this law was democratically enacted and is perfectly constitutional,” he said in a statement. “The people of Mississippi have the right to ensure that all of our citizens are free to peacefully live and work without fear of being punished for their sincerely held religious beliefs.”

The Protecting Freedom of Conscience from Government Discrimination Act allows “sincerely held religious belief or moral conviction” as a defense in adverse government actions and private lawsuits against individuals who act in accordance with the 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(s) to an individual’s immutable biological sex as objectively determined by anatomy and genetics at time of birth.”

The state law supplants municipal codes like those in Jackson, Miss., where it is a “hate crime”—punishable by a fine of up to $1,000—to discriminate against someone based on their “real or perceived” sexual orientation or gender identity. That gives local business owners some legal protection for declining to service same-sex weddings for reasons of conscience.

Faith-based ministries, like foster care and adoption agencies, also will be free to operate according to their religious convictions, knowing they have a state-sanctioned response to any civil lawsuits challenging their operational standards. And physicians can follow their conscience by refusing to offer “gender-affirming” treatments to patients with gender dysphoria.

After a federal judge struck down the law in 2016, Mississippi Attorney General Jim Hood refused to defend it. Bryant tapped two attorneys to represent the state, pro bono, in the appeals process. Jim Davis, executive director of the Department of Human Services, and attorneys from Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF) also defended the bill.

The fact that no new lawsuits have been filed since the bill went into effect testifies to its narrowly crafted language, ADF attorney Kevin Theriot told me. But despite lawmakers’ efforts to strike a balance between ideologies, he expects another legal challenge to the Mississippi law in the future.

© 2018 World News Service. Used with permission.