Mississippi’s Anti-LGBTQ Law About To Go Into Effect

Mississippi’s discriminatory House Bill 1523 is expected to go into effect today, despite ongoing legal efforts to strike it down.

Misnamed a “religious freedom” law, HB 1523 allows religion to be used as legal justification for discrimination against almost anyone, including 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 to provide goods and services based on their religious beliefs.

Religious freedom is about fairness. It’s not fair to use religion as a license to discriminate and treat people like second-class citizens.

Although more than a year has passed since Mississippi Gov. Phil Bryant (R) signed HB 1523 into law, it hasn’t taken effect yet because several state residents, including faith leaders and members of the LGBTQ community, a church and an LGBTQ advocacy group filed lawsuits challenging it. A federal judge soon afterward stopped the law from going into effect because it was unconstitutional. But Bryant appealed that decision and had to be represented by Alliance Defending Freedom, a Religious Right legal group, after Mississippi’s attorney general refused to go forward with the case, declining to waste taxpayer money on it.

Mississippi's discriminatory HB 1523 harmed people even before it went into effect by demonstrating they're considered to be second-class citizens.

A 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals panel in late June said the law could go into effect because the residents didn’t have the right to sue – the judges said the law wasn’t in effect yet and thus, people hadn’t been harmed by it. The plaintiffs requested the full 5th Circuit to reconsider and put the law on hold again, but the appeals court refused last week.

Americans United filed a friend-of-the-court brief supporting the residents’ request to the 5th Circuit, explaining that the notion that no one has been harmed by HB 1523 is wrong. In fact, people already are being harmed: 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.”

“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. “Our laws should be a shield used to protect religious freedom, not a sword used to harm others.”

The plaintiffs have appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court, but it could be some time before the high court takes any action. And meanwhile, this harmful law goes into effect today. Now businesses, individuals, organizations and others can use religion to justify treating their fellow Mississippians as second-class citizens.

HB 1523 has nothing to do with religious freedom and everything to do with discrimination. That’s why Americans United will continue to challenge it and other laws like it. Religion is no excuse to harm others: Check out our Protect Thy Neighbor campaign to learn more.