JACKSON, Miss. (UPI) — A “controversial” religious freedom law due to take effect Friday in Mississippi was blocked at the last minute.
U.S. District Judge Carlton Reeves struck down House Bill 1523, which would have allowed businesses and government employees in the state to deny services to gay and transgender people, based on what they claim is religious grounds.
In issuing a temporary injunction against the law late Thursday, Reeves described it as “state-sanctioned discrimination.”
The law gave “special rights” to certain citizens who held beliefs “reflecting disapproval of lesbian, gay, transgender and unmarried persons,” he wrote in a 60-page opinion.
“There are almost endless explanations for how HB 1523 condones discrimination against the LGBT community, but in its simplest terms it denies LGBT citizens equal protection under the law.”
The ruling can be appealed.
Supporters of the law, including Mississippi’s Republican Gov. Phil Bryant, insisted that they were simply attempting to protect themselves from discrimination from the federal government over their religious beliefs.
The law would have meant that private businesses and some public-sector employees would have been protected against legal action and discipline if they refused a customer on the grounds of their “sincerely held religious belief.”
It would have allowed clerks to cite religious objections to recuse themselves from issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples, and it could affect adoptions and foster care, business practices and school bathroom policies.
The law would have made it harder for LGBT people to adopt, use foster care services, or even find a place to live if landlords didn’t want to rent them property on “religious grounds.” Employers could even have fired or refuse to employ them based on their sexuality, without fear of punishment.
Medical professionals would have been permitted to refuse to participate in treatments, counseling and surgery related to “sex reassignment or gender identity transitioning.”
The American Civil Liberties Union of Mississippi filed suit in May in an attempt to stop the law. Other suits were also brought against the measure.
The law, called the Protecting Freedom of Conscience from Government Discrimination Act, was passed in Mississippi after the U.S. Supreme Court’s 2015 decision to legalize gay marriage.
The bill had been opposed by LGBT advocates, other Mississippi residents, and a cross-section of religious groups, who argued that it violated their constitutional rights.
Reeves wrote that the title, text and history of the bill indicate it “was the state’s attempt to put LGBT citizens back in their place” after the Supreme Court’s marriage ruling.
He cited that the law would create a separate system “designed to diminish the rights of LGBT citizens,” which would violate the equal protection guaranteed by the Fourteenth Amendment. It also gave an official preference for certain religious beliefs over others, thus violating the First Amendment, Reeves stated.
Reeves ruled that “the bill creates a statewide two-tiered system that elevates heterosexual citizens and demeans LGBT citizens.”
Robert McDuff, attorney for one of four groups to file suit against the bill, was pleased with the result.
He said: “The federal court’s decision recognizes that religious freedom can be preserved along with equal rights for all people regardless of race, religion, or sexual orientation.”
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