Federal Judge Blocks Controversial Mississippi Bill

Only an hour before an overreaching Mississippi Bill that would allow government employees to deny services to same-sex couples was to take place, a Federal Judge blocked the bill. In his 60 page ruling, a U.S. District Court Judge, Carlton Reeves (“Judge Reeves”), blocked Mississippi bill 1523 (“the bill”) from taking effect.

The bill authorized private business and select public-sector employees the right to refuse services to customers on the basis that it would violate a “sincerely held religious belief.”

If the bill were to take action, it would allow vital record keeping clerks and their deputies the right to decline to issue a marriage license on the grounds of their own personal held religious views. Fortunately for the LGBT community, this bill was blocked before even being put into effect.

Supports of the bill thought it was a positive law that protected individual’s religious beliefs. Proponents, such as Governor Phil Bryant (“Gov. Bryant”), stated that this bill was necessary because the federal government was discriminating against religious citizens by condoning same-sex marriage in Obergefell v. Hodges. Obergefell v. Hodges, 576 U.S. ___ (2015). Furthermore, bill supporters believed the bill embodied the beliefs of the Mississippi community as a whole and provided an appropriate accommodation for individuals who have deeply held religious beliefs.

On the other hand, those who oppose the bill saw Mississippi as favoring religious beliefs over the civil rights of the LGTB community. In particular, many viewed Mississippi as attempting to establish and promote a select religion. Opponents of the bill saw the bill as a vehicle for state sanctioned bigotry against gays, lesbians, and transgender Mississippi residents.

Judge Reeves stated that the bill was unconstitutional because it commends the State to favor select religious beliefs over others. Notably, this isn’t the first time Reeves has struck down a Mississippi law as being unconstitutional.

Judge Reeves struck down Mississippi’s ban on same-sex marriage but placed his ruling on hold while the state appealed. During the appeal process, the United States Supreme Court ruled on Obergefell v. Hodges which legalized gay marriage nationwide. Obergefell v. Hodges, 576 U.S. ___ (2015).

Mississippi’s Attorney General, Jim Hood (“Hood”), states that he is unsure whether the state of Mississippi will appeal of judge Reeve’s injunction to block the bill. Specifically, Hood states that appeals are a lengthy and expensive process, and he is skeptical about allocating tax dollars to such a fickle process. However, many think Hood is hesitant to appeal the injunction because he is the only Democrat in a statewide office.

The bill was passed by a republican majority legislature and signed by a republican governor. However, Gov. Bryant plans to appeal the injunction regardless of Hood’s decision. Gov. Bryant states that the bill simply provides “religious accommodations granted by many others states and federal law.” Gov. Bryant signed the bill back in April 2016 and received a religious freedom award for signing the bill from Family Research Council.

As a result, Mississippi is prohibited from favoring one religion over the other. Both private and public sector employees will not be authorized to deny services to those on the basis of their closely held religious beliefs. Rob Mcduff, the attorney who filed one of the lawsuits challenging the law, stated: “It is now time for all of us, as Mississippians, to move beyond division and come together in the ongoing pursuit of a society that respects the rights of everyone.” Many feel that the passage of this bill through the state legislature was a step back for the state of Mississippi and are happy to see that the civil rights of the LGBT society will no longer be subordinate to religious beliefs.

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