Religious Law

5th Circuit tosses challenge to Mississippi's controversial religious freedom law

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A federal appeals court ruled on Thursday that LGBT activists and other plaintiffs don’t have standing to challenge a controversial Mississippi law that allows businesses to deny marriage-related services to same-sex couples.

The New Orleans-based 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals reversed a federal judge who had blocked the law, House Bill 1523, from taking effect, report The Associated Press and the Clarion-Ledger. How Appealing links to the decision (PDF).

The formal name of the law is the Protecting Freedom of Conscience from Government Discrimination Act. It bars the state from taking any “discriminatory action” against those who act in accordance with these religious beliefs or moral convictions: that marriage should be recognized as the union of one man and one woman, that sexual relations should be reserved for marriage, and that a person’s biological sex is determined by anatomy and genetics at birth.

The law protects businesses that offer wedding-related services; religious groups in their decisions regarding employment, housing and the placement of children in foster or adoptive homes; parents who raise foster children in accordance with their beliefs; and doctors and mental health counselors, provided that their belief doesn’t interfere with visitation, recognition of health care decision makers and emergency treatment.

The law also provides that county clerks and state judges can’t be compelled to license gay marriages, as long as notice is given and a legally valid marriage is not impeded or delayed as a result of the recusal.

The plaintiffs included religious leaders who support gay marriage, gay and transgender persons who could be affected by the law, the Joshua Generation Metropolitan Community Church and the Campaign for Southern Equality. They had claimed HB 1523 violated the establishment clause and the equal protection clause.

The appeals court said none of the plaintiffs had shown an injury in fact, and none had standing.

The plaintiffs had argued they suffered stigma as a result of the law, and they had standing similar to plaintiffs in establishment clause cases who encounter religious displays.

The 5th Circuit disagree and said “just as an individual cannot ‘personally confront’ a warehoused monument, he cannot confront statutory text.”

Mississippi civil rights attorney Robert McDuff told the Clarion-Ledger that the plaintiffs “intend to seek further review, perhaps from the full 5th Circuit and definitely from the United States Supreme Court.”

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