Federal Appeals Court Dismisses Challenge Against Mississippi’s Anti-LGBT Religious Freedom Law


A U.S. Federal appeals court on Thursday lifted an injunction that blocked a Mississippi law allowing businesses and government employees to deny services to lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people by citing religious beliefs.

A three-judge panel at the New Orleans-based U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit reversed a lower court ruling that blocked the 2016 law, known as House Bill 1523 and backed by extremist Christian groups, from taking effect.

The panel said the plaintiffs, who included ordained ministers who have married same-sex couples and same-sex couples seeking to marry, did not have standing to bring the lawsuit.

“None of these plaintiffs has clearly shown an injury-in-fact,” said the panel, which did not rule on the merits of the law.

A federal judge blocked the Mississippi law in July of 2016, saying it unconstitutionally allowed “arbitrary discrimination” against the LGBT community and unmarried people..

Under HB 1523, anyone who acts upon religious beliefs receives total immunity from legal action. Landlords may evict gay and trans renters. Employers may fire LGBTQ workers. Private and state-run adoption agencies can turn away same-sex couples. Clerks and judges can refuse to marry same-sex couples. A doctor can refuse to counsel or treat an LGBT patient. And private businesses can refuse to serve LGBT people if doing so somehow involves “recognition of” a same-sex marriage. A gay couple who attempts to celebrate their anniversary with a nice dinner in Mississippi can be lawfully ejected from the restaurant if the owner cites it goes against his “religious beliefs”.

Mississippi Governor Phil Bryant, a Republican who signed HB 1523 into law in April 2016, applauded Thursday’s ruling.

“As I have said all along, the legislation is not meant to discriminate against anyone, but simply prevents government interference with the constitutional right to exercise sincerely held religious beliefs,” Bryant said in a statement.

“This law is among the very worst in the nation,” said Susan Sommer, director of constitutional litigation at Lambda Legal, and lawyer for the plaintiffs said they would likely seek further judicial review, either before the full Fifth Circuit or the U.S. Supreme Court.

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