The Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals will hear arguments over “the nation’s most sweeping anti-LGBT religious exemption law” in Lubbock, Texas on April 3rd. The Asheville, North Carolina-based Campaign for Southern Equality announced the hearing in a press release Tuesday.
The Mississippi law, which allows state officials to refuse to serve LGBT people on the basis of three specific religious beliefs, was signed into law by Mississippi Governor Phil Bryant last year. But a federal judge struck the law down last year before it could go into effect.
The law, CSE says, would have allowed not only public officials, but business owners and others to deny service. A doctor, CSE argues, would have the right to turn away patients based on their gender identity; a public school counselor would have the right to refuse to counsel a gay student.
In his ruling, Judge Carlton Reeves wrote that the “court finds that [HB 1523] does not honor the tradition of religious freedom, nor does it respect the equal dignity of all of Mississippi’s citizens.”
Reeves has struck down anti-LGBT laws in the state before, including Mississippi’s laws banning gay couples from marrying and adopting.
Lead counsel for the plaintiffs is Roberta Kaplan, who has argued against several of Mississippi’s anti-LGBT laws in the past and who, most famously, won the historic case that struck down the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) at the United States Supreme Court in 2013.
“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,” Kaplan said.
“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.”
The law, plaintiffs argue, protects three religious beliefs above all others, by singling out religious beliefs about gay marriages, gender identity, and premarital sex for special protection.
The law offers no protection to those whose with different or conflicting religious beliefs.
At the Federal Court trial in Jackson, Susan Hrotowski, a plaintiff who lives in Forrest County with her wife and their 17-year-old son, testified that the law “conveys a message to [her] that the State wants to hold certain people – that would be gay men, lesbians, and transgender people – to be less worthy and have less dignity than other human beings.”
The law is “the antithesis of the message of Jesus” said Hrotowski, who serves as the vicar of St. Elizabeth’s Episcopal Church in Collins, Mississippi.