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Court upholds law protecting Christians who oppose gay ‘marriage’ in Mississippi

Fr. Mark Hodges Fr. Mark Hodges

JACKSON, Mississippi, June 23, 2017 (LifeSiteNews) — A federal appeals court upheld Mississippi's Protecting Freedom of Conscience from Government Discrimination Act on Thursday that is considered one of the broadest religious objections measures enacted by any state.

The measure ensures Christians and those who object to same-sex "marriage" will not be forced to violate their sincerely held beliefs.

District Judge Carlton Reeves had blocked the 2016 religious freedom law from going into effect, declaring it unconstitutional, but a three-judge panel of the Fifth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals overruled the district judge's declaration.  

The Fifth Circuit panel noted that those against the law “have not clearly shown injury-in-fact,” which means they did not show how those who favor same-sex “marriage” are harmed by allowing those with contrary beliefs to live consistently with their beliefs.

Nevertheless, the law will not go into effect until appeals are exhausted.

The law protects from discrimination those who believe that marriage is the union of one man and one woman, that sex is to be reserved for heterosexual marriage, and that gender is determined biologically and not up to the feelings of individuals.

The Alliance Defending Freedom legal team helped write the Mississippi law. "The sole purpose of this law is to ensure that Mississippians don’t live in fear of losing their careers or their businesses simply for affirming marriage as a husband-wife union,” ADF attorney Kevin Theriot explained.  

The Daily Signal summarized the impact of this broad legal protection:

  • Religious organizations, like churches, cannot be forced to use their facilities to celebrate or solemnize weddings that violate their beliefs.

  • Religious convents, universities, and social service organizations can continue to maintain personnel and housing policies that reflect their beliefs.

  • Religious adoption agencies can continue to operate by their conviction that every child they serve deserves to be placed with a married mom and dad.

  • Bakers, photographers, florists and similar wedding-specific vendors cannot be forced to use their talents to celebrate same-sex weddings if they cannot do so in good conscience.

  • State employees cannot be fired for expressing their beliefs about marriage outside the office, and individual state clerks can opt out of issuing marriage licenses so long as no valid marriage license is delayed or impeded.

  • Counselors and surgeons cannot be required to participate in gender identity transitioning or sex-reassignment surgeries against their faith and convictions while guaranteeing that no one is denied emergency care or visitation rights.

  • Private businesses and schools, not bureaucrats, get to set their own bathroom, shower, and locker room policies.

Mississippi Gov. Phil Bryant, a Republican, signed the bill into law in April 2016, pointing out that it merely prevents discrimination by protecting individuals against government coercing them against their beliefs.

Theriot said those against the religious freedom law "want to restrict freedom and impose their beliefs on others by ensuring dissenters are left open to the government discrimination."

The Fifth Circuit decided that giving exemptions for sincerely-held beliefs does not establish any religion. "Protecting pro-life consciences did not violate the Constitution ... nor do laws protecting pacifists," the Heritage Foundation's Dr. Ryan T. Anderson argued.  He said the law's "only aim is peaceful coexistence in the face of disagreement."

Anderson, who is the William E. Simon Senior Research Fellow in American Principles and Public Policy, said the Mississippi law should set a precedent for states around the nation and even the U.S. Congress. "Other states should follow Mississippi’s lead in protecting religious liberty and the rights of conscience after the redefinition of marriage," he said. "So, too, should Congress pass protections at the federal level."

Gov. Bryant signed the bill despite tremendous liberal and political pressure. "Sports bodies, big business, and other state governments have threatened every state considering similar religious freedom legislation with boycotts and relocation," emphasized Roger Severino, the director of the DeVos Center for Religion and Civil Society at The Heritage Foundation. "While Georgia and West Virginia folded under the pressure, the people of Mississippi have proven they can stand up to bullies by standing for religious freedom."

Thursday's circuit court decision is available here.



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