JACKSON — Mississippi’s Republican leadership praised Thursday’s ruling by a three-judge panel of the United States’ 5th Circuit Court of Appeals re-instating the state’s controversial 2016 legislation that opponents said would lead to discrimination against gays and other groups on religious grounds.
The Protecting Freedom of Conscience from Government Discrimination Act was struck down hours before it was slated to be enacted on July 1, 2016, by U.S. Judge Carlton Reeves of the Southern District of Mississippi.
But upon appeal by Gov. Phil Bryant, the three-judge panel overturned Reeves’ decision, saying the federal courts could not rule on the law until someone suffered actual harm, such as discrimination, because of the law.
While the panel did not rule on the merits of the case, Bryant, Speaker Philip Gunn, R-Clinton, and Republican Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves, who presides over the Senate, hailed the ruling of the three judge panel.
“The whole objective was to protect religious freedoms. We are pleased to see that is now in effect,” said Gunn, who was the primary author of the legislation.
Bryant, who led the appeal, said, “I am pleased the 5th Circuit has ruled to dismiss the case and allow House Bill 1523 to become law. As I have said all along, the legislation is not meant to discriminate against anyone, but simply prevents government interference with the constitutional right to exercise sincerely held religious beliefs.”
And Reeves said in a statement, “House Bill 1523 simply protected Mississippians from government interference when practicing their deeply held religious beliefs, and I appreciate the 5th Circuit clearing the path for this law to take effect.”
Groups differed on the practical application of the religious freedom law. The bill said that that circuit clerks or their deputies could not be forced to issue marriage licenses to gay couples if they had a religious objection. But the state would be responsible for ensuing the license was issued. Businesses also could not be forced to provide services for gay weddings and for other events.
The 5th Circuit acknowledged the bill identifies and protects three beliefs:
–A marriage is between a man and a woman.
–Sex is reserved for married couples.
–A person’s gender is determined a birth.
The multiple people challenging the ruling have several options, including trying to prove the law caused injury to a person or appealing the ruling.
In overturning the bill just before it became law, Reeves said, it was “the state’s attempt to put LGBT citizens back in their place” after the United States Supreme Court approved gay marriage.
The office of Mississippi Attorney General Jim Hood defended the law in front of Reeves, but opted not to pursue an appeal. At the time, Hood, Mississippi’s only statewide elected Democrat, said politicians should focus on improving the overall economy of the state and not on costly legal fights.
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