UPDATE: Appeal to Full 5th Circuit in HB 1523 Challenge
Jackson, Mississippi (July 7, 2017) – The plaintiffs in Campaign for Southern Equality v. Bryant filed a petition yesterday afternoon seeking a rehearing en banc by the full U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit after a three-judge panel found on June 22, 2017 that the plaintiffs did not have standing to challenge Mississippi’s HB 1523, the most extreme anti-LGBT law in the nation.
The petition is available at: http://bit.ly/2tOyKeV.
The panel decision, which held that the plaintiffs had not shown sufficient injury from HB 1523 to have standing to sue in court, did not reach the merits issue of whether the Mississippi law violates the Establishment Clause.
On June 30, 2016, Judge Reeves issued a preliminary injunction that blocked HB 1523 from taking effect. Currently, HB 1523 is not in effect, and if the Fifth Circuit agrees to review the panel decision en banc, the preliminary injunction will remain in force until the full court rules.
Passed in spring 2016, HB 1523 would empower Mississippi officials, state employees, and private individuals who hold certain religious beliefs to deny a wide array of services to LGBT individuals. Under the law, Mississippi clerks could refuse to provide marriage licenses to same-sex couples, public school counselors could turn away LGBT or questioning youth in crisis, and a cab driver could eject a same-sex couple en route to the airport to celebrate their honeymoon.
“If the panel’s decision is allowed to stand, then as a practical matter no one would have standing to challenge a statute like HB 1523 that officially endorses certain sectarian religious views over others. That would make it very difficult, if not impossible, for the courts to enforce the core concept of religious neutrality that animates the Establishment Clause. Religious people in Mississippi remain starkly divided on the question of whether LGBT people should be treated with equal dignity under the law. New research shows that while 61% of the general population in Mississippi opposes allowing a business to refuse service to gay men and lesbians on religious grounds, among white evangelicals there is majority support for allowing such refusals.1 No matter what side you come down in this religious debate, one thing I think we can all agree on is that the government should not be taking side on issues of religious belief,” says Roberta Kaplan, lead counsel for the plaintiffs in Campaign for Southern Equality v. Bryant III, one of two cases challenging HB 1523.
“If the LGBT community in Mississippi is going to be attacked by the Mississippi legislature and Governor practically every session, then the Constitution guarantees that we have the ability to challenge these laws in the courts. HB 1523 was designed with only one purpose – to denigrate the dignity of LGBT folks and those who do not share these anti-LGBT religious views. As a minister, I hold religious freedom as a core value, but the reality is that this statute favors Southern Baptists over Episcopalians and Jehovah’s Witnesses over Reform Jews. We will keep fighting this hateful law to make sure that it never goes into effect or that if it ever does, it causes as little harm to people as possible,” says Rev. Jasmine Beach-Ferrara, Executive Director of the Campaign for Southern Equality.
Mississippi is home to 60,000 LGBT adults and an estimated 11,400 transgender youth and adults, according to 2016 data published by the Williams Institute at the U.C.L.A. School of Law. The state is also home to 3,500 same-sex couples, 29 percent of whom are raising children—the highest rate in the nation.
1. Joanna Piacenza & Robert P. Jones, A Majority of Mississippi Residents Oppose Religiously Based Service Refusals of Gays and Lesbians, Public Religion Research Institute (June 23, 2017), https://www.prri.org/sp