A federal judge blocked Mississippi law H.B. 1523 hours before it was slated to take effect last week. The law would have authorized religious organizations, businesses, and even some state employees to discriminate against the LGBT community and others who do not follow their specific beliefs under the guise of religious freedom.
H.B. 1523, passed this spring by the Mississippi State Legislature, would have been the furthest reaching of the many laws aimed at restricting the rights of LGBT individuals. The bill allowed individuals to legally discriminate against couples of the same gender, men and women who engage in sex outside of marriage, and those who do not identify with the gender on their birth certificate, all on the grounds of religious beliefs. This would have meant that landlords could refuse to rent to LGBT tenants, that employers could fire their employees based solely on their sexual orientation or gender identity, that unmarried women could be fired for becoming pregnant, and even that doctors could refuse to treat LGBT patients in many circumstances.
The decision to strike down H.B. 1523 came as a result of a lawsuit by the Mississippi Center for Justice. Proponents of the law described it as protecting citizens’ constitutionally guaranteed right to practice their religion freely, but lawyers from the Mississippi Center for Justice, led by Roberta Kaplan, successfully argued that the law not only violated the religious neutrality of the state, but also violated LGBT individual’s right to equal protection under the law.
In a comprehensive 60-page opinion, Judge Carlton Reeves blocked every part of the law, calling it out as “a vehicle for state-sanctioned discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity” poorly disguised as an effort to protect religious liberty. Reeves asserted that rather than ensuring freedom of religion, the law actually hurts religious liberty by favoring certain beliefs over others and violating the Constitutional right to freedom of religion for those, Christian and otherwise, who do not endorse the opinions laid out in H.B. 1523.
The ruling was a victory for LGBT rights activists around the country, as it is likely to set a precedent and be used to strike down similar anti-LGBT “religious liberty” laws. Unfortunately, many states have passed these types of laws in the wake of the Supreme Court’s ruling on marriage equality, including North Carolina’s attempt to ban transgender people from using the bathroom of their choice.