AU Supports Mississippians Challenging Discriminatory HB 1523, A So-called “Religious Freedom” Law

Because our laws should be a shield used to protect religious freedom and not a sword used to harm others, Americans United has filed a friend-of-the-court brief in support of the Mississippians challenging the state’s discriminatory House Bill 1523.

Misnamed a “religious freedom” law, HB 1523 allows religion to be used as a legal justification for discrimination against LGBTQ people, single mothers, divorcees, anyone who has had sex outside of marriage, and their families. It would allow a range of individuals, corporations, health care providers and nonprofit organizations – including those that receive taxpayer funding – to refuse goods and services based on their religious beliefs.

The outcry was swift after Mississippi Gov. Phil Bryant (R) signed HB 1523 into law in April 2016: Several state residents and organizations, including faith leaders and members of the LGBTQ community, filed lawsuits challenging the law. A federal judge soon afterward ruled that the law was unconstitutional, but Bryant appealed that decision with the assistance of the legal group Alliance Defending Freedom since Mississippi’s attorney general declined to waste taxpayer money on the fight.

Mississippians already are being harmed by HB 1523 because it demonstrates they're second-class citizens.

A three-judge panel of the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in late June ruled the plaintiffs in Barber v. Bryant didn’t have the right to sue because they had not yet been harmed by the law, which had not yet gone into effect.

But people already are being harmed by HB 1523: The mere existence of the law demonstrates that they are considered second-class citizens in their state, unworthy of equal dignity, equal citizenship and equal protection of the laws.

The plaintiffs are requesting all of the judges on the 5th Circuit to review the case, and Americans United is supporting their request. Our brief, which was joined by the Anti-Defamation League, explains that Mississippians who challenged this harmful law “wake up each day knowing that they are expressly disfavored” and can expect to experience state-authorized discrimination.

“This law harms countless Mississippians by telling them that, because of someone else’s religion, they are not equal,” said Richard B. Katskee, AU’s legal director.

We’ve urged the full 5th U.S. Circuit to review the constitutionality of HB 1523 and strike it down once and for all. But we won’t stop there – AU will continue to fight any misuse of religious freedom as an excuse to harm others. Check out our Protect Thy Neighbor campaign to learn more.