US Supreme Court will let Mississippi ‘freedom to discriminate’ law stand

The US Supreme Court has declined to hear a case about Mississippi’s anti-LGBT law, allowing it to stand.

The Republican-dominated state recently passed HB 1523, a broad law which grants Mississippians the ability to use so-called “religious exemptions” to legally deny LGBTQ people employment, housing, adoption rights, marriage licenses, and even services at a local business.

Despite protests from LGBT rights groups, the sweeping law was signed by the state’s Governor Phil Bryant, and came into effect in October.

A legal challenge to the law was rejected by the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, which ruled that the plaintiffs in the case – including same-sex couples and civil rights advocates – did not have standing to challenge the law.

The US Supreme Court today declined to review that decision, essentially allowing Mississippi’s anti-LGBT law to stand.

(Photo by SAUL LOEB/AFP/Getty Images)

The US Supreme Court only takes up a fraction of cases put before it, but the decision to avoid intervening in the case has sparked concern.

Sarah Kate Ellis, President and CEO of GLAAD, said: “This latest punt on LGBTQ rights by the nation’s highest court promotes state-stationed discrimination by upholding a law that allows hotels, ER doctors, business owners, and even pediatricians to legally deny services to hardworking LGBTQ families in Mississippi.

“While freedom of religion is a fundamental right, it should never give people the right to impose their belief on others and openly discriminate against others in the name of religious exemptions.”

The law’s passage comes despite research from the Public Religion Research Institute (PRRI) which showed that a majority of Americans oppose anti-LGBTQ legislation.

The polling revealed that more than six in ten (61%) Americans oppose allowing small business owners to refuse to provide products or services to gay or lesbian people. Just three in ten (30%) Americans support their right to to do so.

Same-sex marriage supporters shout slogans in front of the US Supreme Court (Photo by JEWEL SAMAD/AFP/Getty Images)

Despite being advertised as a ‘religious freedom’ measure, there is not a single religious group in which a majority supports allowing small business owners to refuse services to gay and lesbian people

62% of white mainline protestants oppose the laws, alongside 66% of black protestants, 52% of Hispanic protestants, and 62% of Catholics.

The law garnered more support among fringe religions, but even then only half (50%) of white evangelicals and and fewer than half of Mormons (42%) believed in the right to discriminate.

However, a separate study found that when posed specific scenarios, a majority of Americans believed that business owners should have a right to discriminate against gay and interracial couples.

GLAAD added :”Since the HB 1523 debate began, GLAAD has been on the ground in Mississippi working with local organizations like the Mississippi Gulf Coast Rainbow Center, the Spectrum Center, and Joshua Generation MCC to help accelerate acceptance for LGBTQ people in the state and protect them from discrimination.

“From launching a #MyMississippi campaign, a campaign geared to amplify voices of LGBTQ Mississippians; releasing a media resource guide on LGBTQ people living in the state; to co-hosting a United Against Hate rally against HB 1523 last December; GLAAD has been with LGBTQ Mississippians to fight back against this discriminatory ‘religious exemptions’ agenda and will continue to complement and amplify their efforts.”

Sarah Kate Ellis, President and CEO of GLAAD, said: “America was founded on the freedom of religion and this shared value continues to be critical to our nation’s success, but it does not give people the right to impose their beliefs on others, to harm others, or to discriminate.

“This law allows hotels, ER doctors, business owners, and even pediatricians to legally deny services to hardworking LGBTQ families in Mississippi, despite the fact that such blatant discrimination flies in the face of Mississippi and American values.

“The fight is far from over and we stand with advocates in Mississippi who simply want to be treated equal to their coworkers, friends, and neighbours.”

HB 1523 was passed in 2016, but was put on hold amid a legal challenge.

However, after the United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit dismissed the challenge, the injunction against the law was lifted.

A number of states launched a boycott of Mississippi over the law.

California, Connecticut, Minnesota, New York, Vermont and Washington, along with the District of Columbia, have all launched travel bans barring government employees from non-essential publicly funded travel to Mississippi.

Donald Trump has previously signed a pledge supporting the so-called First Amendment Defence Act, a similar federal law which bans the government from taking any “action against a person, wholly or partially on the basis that such person believes or acts in accordance with a religious belief or moral conviction that marriage is or should be recognised as the union of one man and one woman, or that sexual relations are properly reserved to such a marriage.”

He claimed last year: “Religious liberty is enshrined in the First Amendment to the Constitution.

“It is our first liberty and provides the most important protection in that it protects our right of conscience. Activist judges and executive orders issued by Presidents who have no regard for the Constitution have put these protections in jeopardy.

“If I am elected president and Congress passes the First Amendment Defense Act, I will sign it to protect the deeply held religious beliefs of Catholics and the beliefs of Americans of all faiths.”