A controversial religious freedom law, which was supposed to take effect in Mississippi on July 1, was blocked by a federal judge citing discrimination.
The religious freedom law, known as Protecting Freedom of Conscience from Government Discrimination Act or House Bill 1523, was supposed to protect the rights of business owners and government workers to refuse service to homosexuals and transgender people if the service will violate their faith.
(Reuters/Nathan Chute)Demonstrators gather at Monument Circle to protest a controversial religious freedom bill recently signed by Governor Mike Pence, April 02, 2015
The law would also have allowed religious organizations to refuse weddings and adoption for LGBT couples or even employ LGBT individuals. It also would have allowed health care professionals to refuse treatment, counseling and surgery for gender transitioning to LGBT clients.
However, U.S. District Court Judge Carlton Reeves said the bill was a “state-sanctioned discrimination” and said that it “condones discrimination.”
“In its simplest terms it denies LGBT citizens equal protection under the law,” Reeves wrote in a 60-page ruling, according to CNN.
Reeves said that House Bill 1523 violated the Fourteenth Amendment because it was crafted to “diminish the rights of LGBT citizens.” He also said that it violated the First Amendment by giving preference to particular religious beliefs over other faiths.
Reeves blocked the law on the evening of Thursday, June 30, just hours before it was to take effect.
Business owners in the state have varied reactions to the judge’s ruling. Bill Luckett, the mayor of Clarksdale, said the law could have been a “very dangerous precedent.”
“When you start blurring the lines between church and state and telling religious grounds that they don’t have to follow, that can lead to chaos,” he said, according to WDAM.
Luckett said when Gov. Phil Bryant passed the bill in April, some concerts and movie productions were cancelled in the area. Business owners in Clarksdale became concerned that the legislation would affect their businesses, as Clarksdale is a major spot for international tourism in Mississippi.
The American Civil Liberties Union lauded Reeves’ ruling.
“This is a huge victory for the state of Mississippi and the nation. The federal ruling clearly states that HB 1523 is unconstitutional, and now this discriminatory law that unfairly targeted LGBT people will not go into effect,” the ACLU said in a statement.