On January 8, 2018, proponents of religious freedom declared victory when the United States Supreme Court refused to hear an appeal of Mississippi’s “Protecting Freedom of Conscience from Government Discrimination Act,” also known as House Bill 1523.
Governor Phil Bryant, Republican, signed the bill into law in April of 2016. Written by Mississippi House Speaker Phillip Gunn, another Republican, the law states, “the sincerely held religious beliefs or moral convictions protected by this act are the belief or conviction that: marriage is or should be recognized as the union of one man and one woman; sexual relations are properly reserved to such a marriage; and male (man) or female (woman) refer to an individual’s immutable biological sex as objectively determined by anatomy and genetics at time of birth.”
The “Protecting Freedom of Conscience from Government Discrimination Act” forbids the government from punishing people who refuse to marry same-sex couples or provide services or accommodations for their weddings. It also protects people and entities whose policies require the utilization of bathrooms and locker rooms according to biological gender.
However, people aren’t allowed to refuse service in general. They can only decline types of participation in activities that conflict with their religious beliefs. Immediately after House Bill 1523 was passed, liberal activists began mounting a vigorous campaign to get it appealed.
The American Civil Liberties Union, or ACLU, represented homosexual couple Nykolas Alford and Stephen Thomas and filed a lawsuit. The couple referred to House Bill 1523 as a “slap in the face” to their plans to get married. At the time, ACLU lawyer Josh Block stated, “H.B. 1523 has no rightful place in Mississippi or in our history books, and we’re hopeful this lawsuit can stop as much of it as possible before it goes into effect.”
In June of 2016, District Judge Carlton Reeves, appointed by President Obama, struck down part of the “Protecting Freedom of Conscience from Government Discrimination Act.” However, he allowed portions of it to stand.
Reeves released an order requiring Mississippi’s entire 82-county clerks to issue same-sex marriage licenses to LGBT couples despite their religious convictions. He reasoned that providing people with a religious exemption would conflict with the United States Supreme Court’s Ruling Obergefell v. Hodges.
“Mississippi’s elected officials may disagree with Obergefell, of course, and may express that disagreement as they see fit—by advocating for a constitutional amendment to overturn the decision, for example,” Reeves said. “But the marriage license issue will not be adjudicated anew after every legislative session.”
The state of Mississippi appealed Reeves’s decision. In June of 2017, the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals reversed the District Judge’s injunction. The appellate court alleged that the plaintiffs who filed the lawsuit didn’t possess legal standing to sue because they couldn’t show any actual harm the law caused them.
The three-judge panel surmised, “We do not foreclose the possibility that a future plaintiff may be able to show clear injury-in-fact that satisfies the ‘irreducible constitutional minimum of standing,’ but the federal courts must withhold judgment unless and until that plaintiff comes forward.”
The reversal to Reeves’s issue was appealed to the United States Supreme Court to no avail. The highest court in the country denied the appeal without providing an explanation.
Kevin Theriot, Alliance Defending Freedom, ADF, Senior Counsel said, “We are pleased that the Supreme Court declined to take up these baseless challenges.” He stated that the sole reason the “Protecting of Conscience from Government Discrimination Act” was passed was so people wouldn’t “live in fear of losing their careers or their businesses simply for affirming marriage as a husband-wife union.”
Unlike Theriot, homosexual advocacy groups are enraged at the United States Supreme Court’s decision. Lambda Legal lawyer Beth Littrell said, “Unfortunately, the Supreme Court’s decision today leaves LGBT people in Mississippi in the crosshairs of hate and humiliation, delaying justice and equality.”
Conservative advocates desperately hope the United States Supreme Court’s choice to allow House Bill 1523 to stand will impact other similar cases involving religious freedoms. The highest court in the land heard arguments in the Masterpiece Cakeshop v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission case in December of 2017. It’s expected to render a decision in June of 2018. Everyone should pray that religious liberties will prevail in this case and others.
~ 1776 Christian