Politics & Government

Appeals court to hear arguments on Mississippi ‘religious freedom law’

Protesters call for Mississippi Gov. Phil Bryant to veto House Bill 1523, which they says will allow discrimination against LGBT people, during a rally outside the Governor's Mansion in Jackson, Miss., Monday, April 4, 2016. The 5th Circuit Court of Appeals will hear arguments Monday on whether to allow the law to stand.
Protesters call for Mississippi Gov. Phil Bryant to veto House Bill 1523, which they says will allow discrimination against LGBT people, during a rally outside the Governor's Mansion in Jackson, Miss., Monday, April 4, 2016. The 5th Circuit Court of Appeals will hear arguments Monday on whether to allow the law to stand. AP

The 5th Circuit Court of Appeals will hear oral arguments Monday afternoon in the lawsuit over HB 1523, Mississippi’s so-called “religious freedom law,” which was blocked by a judge last year.

Gov. Phil Bryant signed the measure, officially called the Protecting Freedom of Conscience from Government Discrimination Act, in April 2016. Multiple individuals and civil rights groups sued. Just moments before it was set to take effect at midnight July 1, Judge Carlton Reeves blocked the law.

“Religious freedom was one of the building blocks of this great nation,” Reeves wrote in his decision, “and after the nation was torn apart, the guarantee of equal protection under the law was used to stitch it back together. But HB 1523 does not honor that tradition of religion freedom, nor does it respect the equal dignity of all of Mississippi’s citizens.”

Bryant appealed and asked the 5th Circuit to stay Reeves’ decision pending the outcome of the appeal. Essentially he asked the law be allowed to go into effect until the 5th Circuit ruled. The court declined.

While the decision not to stay the injunction is not a ruling on the merits of the case itself, one of the factors judges must consider in deciding whether to stay a preliminary injunction is “whether the applicant has made a strong showing that he is likely to succeed on the merits.”

The other factors are:

  • “Whether the applicant will be irreparably injured absent a stay.”
  • “Whether issuance of a stay will substantially injure the other parties interested in the proceeding.”
  • “Where the public interest lies.”

HB 1523 specifically protected three beliefs: that marriage is only between a man and a woman; that sexual relations should only take place inside marriage; and that a person’s “immutable biological sex” is determined at birth.

Proponents of the bill argued it simply protected First Amendment religious rights but opponents contended the law protected only one set of beliefs.

The law was controversial from the start and drew responses from advocates around the country and businesses and tourism groups on the Coast.

Both sides will have 45 minutes to present arguments.

Regina Zilbermints: 228-896-2340, @RZilbermints

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