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Judge: Mississippi’s “religious freedom” anti-LGBTQ law violates religious freedom

The law favors some religious beliefs — specifically, anti-LGBTQ ones — over others.

The LGBTQ pride flag with the US flag.

Gabriel Bouys/AFP via Getty Images

When Mississippi passed its anti-LGBTQ law earlier this year, state lawmakers argued that they were defending religious freedoms. Specifically, the law explicitly allowed government officials, businesses, and religious organizations to cite their religious beliefs to discriminate against LGBTQ people in certain settings.

A federal judge, however, has just blown up the entire argument for the law, finding that it in fact violates religious freedoms — by favoring explicitly anti-LGBTQ religious views over LGBTQ-friendly religious views. Since the entire point of religious liberty is that the government can’t favor one religious belief over another, Mississippi’s law is blatantly unconstitutional.

In a ruling that struck down the entire law (and will likely be appealed), US District Judge Carlton Reeves wrote:

HB 1523 grants special rights to citizens who hold one of three “sincerely held religious beliefs or moral convictions” reflecting disapproval of lesbian, gay, transgender, and unmarried persons. … That violates both the guarantee of religious neutrality and the promise of equal protection of the laws.

The Establishment Clause is violated because persons who hold contrary religious beliefs are unprotected — the State has put its thumb on the scale to favor some religious beliefs over others. Showing such favor tells “nonadherents that they are outsiders, not full members of the political community, and … adherents that they are insiders, favored members of the political community.” And the Equal Protection Clause is violated by HB 1523’s authorization of arbitrary discrimination against lesbian, gay, transgender, and unmarried persons.

This is an incredible turn of the tables. In a supposed attempt to defend religious freedoms, Mississippi actually violated religious freedoms, according to Reeves. Legislators violated the constitutional principle they said they wanted to defend.

Reeves doesn’t stop there. Going through the history of the Mississippi law’s passage, he concludes that the statute is clearly meant to allow discrimination:

The majority of Mississippians were granted special rights to not serve LGBT citizens, and were immunized from the consequences of their actions. LGBT Mississippians, in turn, were “put in a solitary class with respect to transactions and relations in both the private and governmental sphere” to symbolize their second-class status. As in Romer, Windsor, and Obergefell, this “status-based enactment” deprived LGBT citizens of equal treatment and equal dignity under the law.

The implications are clear for Mississippi, but this also creates a big barrier to anti-LGBTQ efforts across the country. Following their defeat over same-sex marriage, anti-LGBTQ activists have focused on passing so-called “religious freedom” bills that in fact target LGBTQ people to allow government-sanctioned discrimination against them. With this ruling, anti-LGBTQ activists will have to give a little more thought to whether their tactics can really work.


Watch: How most states allow discrimination against LGBTQ people

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