HB 1523: Amici Briefs

On December 23, 2016, religious stakeholders, prominent First Amendment scholars, and five major civil rights organizations filed amicus briefs urging the United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit to District Judge Carlton Reeves’s order blocking of Mississippi’s HB 1523, an extreme anti-LGBT law, from going into effect.

Eight briefs in total will be filed on behalf of major civil rights organizations, including Gay and Lesbian Legal Advocates and Defenders (GLAD), the Anti-Defamation League, the Southern Poverty Law Center, and First Amendment scholars.

The briefs are available at these links (updated as briefs are available):

FULL MEDIA RELEASE

Major Religious Leaders and Civil Rights Groups File Mississippi HB 1523

Amicus Briefs with Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals

December 23, 2016 (Jackson, Mississippi) – Religious stakeholders, prominent First Amendment scholars, and five major civil rights organizations filed amicus briefs today urging the United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit to District Judge Carlton Reeves’s order blocking of Mississippi’s HB 1523, an extreme anti-LGBT law, from going into effect. Eight briefs in total were filed on behalf of major civil rights organizations, including Gay and Lesbian Legal Advocates and Defenders (GLAD), the Anti-Defamation League, the Southern Poverty Law Center, and First Amendment scholars. The full set of briefs can be found at: http://bit.ly/2hgiLiz (the website will be updated as briefs get filed throughout the day).

“We fought the passage of House Bill 1523 from its first moments of serious consideration in the Mississippi Legislature,” said Rt. Rev. Brian Seage, Bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Mississippi. “It is my belief that the bill contradicts our baptismal vow to ‘respect the dignity of all human beings.’” Bishop Seage joined an amicus brief filed on behalf of religious leaders from a wide array of denominations and faith traditions arguing that HB 1523 violates the very essence of the First Amendment. These faith leaders, represented by Jeffrey Trachtman of law firm Kramer Levin, argue that the Mississippi bill places a “government-sanctioned religious thumb” on the scale of a heated debate about LGBT rights.

Experts in First Amendment law expressed shock over the blatant unconstitutionality of HB 1523, in a brief authored by Joshua Matz of Robbins Russell LLP, a former law clerk for United States Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy. “There is proud tradition of religious accommodation in the United States, but HB 1523 is a law unlike anything this Nation has seen before.  This is not a law that protects all religious beliefs about marriage, sexuality, and gender.  Instead, HB 1523 is a ringing announcement of the State’s own position on questions of faith.  Under HB 1523, Mississippians who hold one set of religious beliefs receive extraordinary legal benefits, while those with different religious truths are left out in the cold,” Matz says. The First Amendment scholars he represents argue that, “Here, Mississippi crossed the line, which the Framers drew because they knew that religious liberty would perish if government were allowed to privilege some religious creeds over other.”

HB 1523, which Governor Phil Bryant signed into law in April of this year, would allow public employees, private citizens, and for-profit businesses in Mississippi to deny treatment, services, and goods to LGBT individuals on the basis of three specific religious beliefs: (1) that marriage can only be between a man and a woman; (2) that sexual relations are properly reserved to such a marriage; and (3) that sex is an immutable characteristic that is assigned at birth and cannot change. A brief filed on behalf of the Gay Men’s Health Crisis and other leading HIV/AIDS service providers warns the Court that one provision of the bill, which would allow medical professionals to refuse to provide counseling and psychological treatment on the basis of the three religious beliefs preferred by HB 1523, could lead to life and death consequences for HIV-positive Mississippians.

Mississippi businesses said that HB 1523 is yet another stain on Mississippi’s troubled history with civil rights, in a brief filed by the Jackson office of Bradley Arant Boult, Cummings LLP. The brief compares the resistance to the landmark desegregation ruling Brown v. Board of Education in Mississippi to the State Legislature’s efforts to pass HB 1523 in response to Obergefell v. Hodges, the Supreme Court case that guarantees marriage equality for all Americans. These business owners also expressed serious concern over the economic havoc that could be wreaked if HB 1523 were to go into effect.

A brief filed on behalf of the Williams Institute at the U.C.L.A. School of Law, a leading LGBT think tank, makes clear just how many people HB 1523 would impact: Mississippi is home to 60,000 LGBT adults and an estimated 11,400 transgender youth and adults.  The state is also home to 3,500 same-sex couples, 29 percent of whom are raising children—the highest rate in the nation.

The plaintiffs in the case, Campaign for Southern Equality, and Rev. Dr. Susan Hrostowski are being represented by lawyers  led by Roberta Kaplan of Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison LLP, Fishman Haygood LLP, and Southern Methodist University Law Professor Dale Carpenter.

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