A recent win for religious liberty in Mississippi is cause for celebration.
In April 2016, Mississippi Governor Phil Bryant signed the Religious Liberty Accommodations Act (also known as the Protecting Freedom of Conscience from Government Discrimination Act, or H.B. 1523) into law. This important legislation protects persons, businesses, and faith communities from discrimination based upon the following beliefs:
- [That marriage] is or should be recognized as the union of one man and one woman;
- [That sexual] relations are properly reserved to such a marriage; and
- [That male] (man) or female (woman) refer to an individual’s immutable biological sex as objectively determined by anatomy and genetics at time of birth.
Specifically, the law protects conscience-based objections to participation in activities like same-sex “weddings,” so-called “gender reassignment” surgeries, and adoptions by same-sex couples. In response to the law’s passage, several states—including New York—implemented retaliatory bans on non-essential state employee travel to Mississippi; in addition, some celebrities boycotted the state.
The Religious Liberty Accommodations Act was scheduled to go into effect on July 1, 2016; however, to no one’s surprise, the law was challenged in court by LGBT advocates. Before the law could go into effect, a federal judge held it unconstitutional and issued a permanent injunction barring its implementation. Following the trial court’s decision, Democratic Mississippi Attorney General Jim Hood announced that he would not appeal the decision; in response, Gov. Bryant—a Republican—retained counsel to defend the law. In June 2017, the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals reversed the trial court’s decision, holding that the plaintiffs lacked standing to sue. The law went into effect in October 2017, but the plaintiffs appealed the Fifth Circuit’s decision to the Supreme Court of the United States.
Earlier this month, the Supreme Court announced that it would not hear the plaintiffs’ appeal regarding the Religious Liberty Accommodations Act. This is good news. While it is possible that the law could be challenged in court again in the future, this particular lawsuit has been dismissed. The Mississippi State Legislature and Gov. Bryant should be applauded for their refusal to back down from their belief in religious freedom, and the Alliance Defending Freedom—which worked on the case—should be applauded for their continued defense of liberty. As Gov. Bryant has stated, “‘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.’”