SCOTUS: 5th Circuit got it right on 'religious freedom law'

Posted: Monday, January 8, 2018 | Chris Woodward, | Politics

Reaction is coming in response to the Supreme Court's decision not to get involved in a Mississippi law protecting the religious beliefs and expression thereof by government workers and people in private business.

The high court on Monday refused to intervene in a legal fight over Mississippi's "Protecting Freedom of Conscience from Government Discrimination Act" (HB 1523), which took effect on October 10, 2017. That decision leaves in place the decision by the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals that allowed the law to take effect.

Governor Phil Bryant (R-Mississippi) made the following comments on American Family Radio on Monday:

"The media deliberately continues to misrepresent the facts regarding what the bill actually does. It is actually a bill that would protect individual businesses and some of those who are in government in the very narrow area of marriage, so that we might protect their deeply held religious views regarding marriage."

"You'll see articles that will say It will discriminate against the LGBT community – nothing is further from the truth. But if my right as a Christian can be weighed against what you think are your perceived rights or [actually are] according to the Constitution, there must be a balance. We think this bill struck a balance. We think this bill stopped cities, for example, which may have liberal mayors of saying if you don't abide by theirrules, if you don't go and provide these services for a gay wedding, we're going to take your license away from you, we are going to perhaps fine you."

"We are very satisfied [with the decision]. The Supreme Court did exactly what the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals did: they said the plaintiffs have no standing, no one has been harmed, no one has been discriminated against. And the Supreme Court said that the 5th Circuit was absolutely right, that the plaintiffs had no standing. The law has been in effect since October, three months now. To the best of our knowledge, not one complaint."

"I'm certain that plaintiffs will go back into courthouses and into bakeries and photography shops and try to find someone who they may say has discriminated against them. But the law is in effect and the plaintiffs have no standing because no one in the state of Mississippi has been harmed at this time."

The law protects freedom of conscience concerning three primary issues: (1) that sex is defined at birth and is immutable, (2) that marriage is the exclusive lifelong union of one man and one woman, and (3) that people who believe the biblical view of human sexuality - those who maintain those three primary beliefs – will be protected against government discrimination in the state of Mississippi.

OneNewsNow spoke with attorney Kevin Theriot of Alliance Defending Freedom about the Supreme Court's decision.

"We think the Supreme Court did the right thing in allowing the 5th Circuit's ruling to stand because there really is no constitutional crisis when a state like Mississippi decides to protect the religious convictions and moral convictions of people who believe in marriage between one man and one woman."

The issue, he says, could come back to the high court.

"The Supreme Court just decided not to hear it. [But they could hear] the next case that comes up that's similar, which addresses whether in an Establishment Clause-type of case someone can claim they've been harmed just because a law is passed recognizing an exception for others. The Court did not address the issue directly. It just decided that ... this law doesn't harm anyone as far as we know. If somebody can prove that they're harmed, then they can come back to Court later."

The ADF attorney explains that the issue at stake is the ability of the government to protect the right of conscience.

"That applies not just to people's beliefs about same-sex marriage, but also [to] people who are conscientious objectors to war, who don't want to participate in the death penalty, who don't want to participate in abortion. This case is one more in a long line of laws respecting the freedom of conscience – just like we respect the ability of Amish people not to [be forced] to go to compulsory education. It's a long tradition in this country and this should be no big deal to most people."

Abraham Hamilton III, radio host and legal counsel for the American Family Association, summarized the legal battle up to this point Monday while on American Family Radio.

"In passing that law, it was challenged at the federal district court level. Federal District Court Judge Carlton Reeves struck down House Bill 1523. That decision was appealed to the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals. The 5th Circuit said, Wait a minute, there has been no injury here, so we're going to uphold House Bill 1523. This morning (Monday) it was announced that those parties appealed the 5th Circuit's decision to the U.S. Supreme Court, and the Supreme Court decided not to intervene – which means that the 5th Circuit's decision stays in place."

According to Hamilton, Mississippi didn't want to have a situation like the one with Kim Davis in Kentucky.

"Using the Kim Davis example, what the law simply said was that if you happen to be a court clerk and you have a biblically based belief that marriage is between one man, one woman – [based on that] you can recuse yourself. It doesn't mean that people who are applying can't get a license. It just means that you can't force Kim Davis to be the one to issue it. What the court said is that there have been no instances that have resulted in people either recusing themselves or resulting in people not being able to get a marriage license if they are reporting to be a homosexual couple."


Editor's Note: The American Family Association is the parent organization of the American Family News Network, which operates

This post first appeared here and was reprinted with permission.