As I predicted after the first two lawsuits were filed against Mississippi’s House Bill 1523, a third suit now claims that the state’s outrageous new religious liberty law violates the First Amendment.
A group of pastors, community leaders and activists sued the state’s governor and other officials last week, arguing that the law—which will soon grant legal protections to people who deny public services based on three specific beliefs (that marriage should be between men and women only, that sex outside of marriage is immoral, and that gender and sex are only determined by anatomy at birth)— “was clearly enacted for religious purposes.”
The complaint states:
The plaintiffs disagree with those beliefs and convictions and are offended by the State’s endorsement and special protection of them. The endorsement and special protection of those beliefs and convictions conveys a state-sponsored message of disapproval and hostility to those who do not share those beliefs and convictions, including the plaintiffs and many other Mississippians, and indicates that their status is disfavored in the social and political community of their own home state.”
The plaintiffs include Rev. Dr. Rims Barber (Presbyterian), director of the Mississippi Human Services Coalition, Rev. Carol Burnett (Methodist), and a number of other activists, therapists and community leaders who say the law unfairly cuts them out because they are gay, transgender, or engage in premarital sex.
They’re joined by the Hattiesburg-area Joshua Generation Metropolitan Community Church, a “radically inclusive ministry” whose membership includes people within all three groups targeted by the law, according to the complaint.
The ACLU and the Campaign for Southern Equality have already argued HB 1523 violates the protections granted by last year’s Obergefell v. Hodges Supreme Court decision. But, as church and state scholars have pointed out, the law is “excruciatingly different” from other religious freedom laws because it specifies exactly which religious beliefs it is based on.
Most importantly, this latest suit highlights the fact that laws that discriminate against LGBT people (or deny reproductive rights) based on “religious freedom” don’t just harm those whom they specifically target. These laws also threaten progressive and moderate religious groups or congregations, who are sidelined by religious conservatives’ cultural claims on religion in the public sphere.