Mississippi is defending its
controversial “religious freedom” law in federal appeals court.
Last year, U.S. District Judge Carlton
Reeves halted the law before it took effect.
Republican Governor Phil Bryant, who
signed House Bill 1523 into law, is defending the legislation on his
own after Democratic Attorney General Jim Hood declined to appeal
Reeves' ruling. Private attorneys, including some from the Christian
conservative legal group Alliance Defending Freedom, are handling the
The Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals
heard arguments in the case on Monday.
Mississippi's Protecting Freedom of
Conscience from Government Discrimination Act allows businesses
to deny services to LGBT people based on their “sincerely held
religious beliefs or moral convictions.” It also seeks to provide
similar protections to individuals who object to transgender rights.
Attorney Roberta Kaplan, who
represented Edith Windsor at the Supreme Court in the case that
struck down the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), is the lead attorney
“The entire point of the religious
freedom guaranteed by the First Amendment is to protect the religious
beliefs of all Americans, not just the views of some Americans, or
even the views of the majority of Americans," Roberta Kaplan
said in a statement. "By enshrining three specific, anti-gay
religious beliefs not held by all religions or religious people in
Mississippi law, and by giving Mississippians who hold those beliefs
an absolute exemption from a wide variety of otherwise
generally-applicable laws and regulations, HB 1523 flies in the face
of this long and cherished constitutional tradition."
Kevin Theriot of Alliance Defending
Freedom said that the law protects Mississippians who believe that
marriage is solely a heterosexual union.
“Americans shouldn't have to live in
fear of government punishment simply for affirming marriage as a
man-woman union,” Theriot said in a statement. "Good laws
like Mississippi's protect freedom and harm no one. Those challenging
this law want to restrict freedom and impose their beliefs on others
by ensuring dissenters are left open to the government discrimination
that has already occurred in states without protective laws like this