Hood not sure if he’ll defend religious freedom law

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Attorney General Jim Hood said Monday that he has not determined whether his office will defend the religious freedom law signed by Gov. Phil Bryant last week if it is challenged in court.

A number of civil liberty groups say they are considering legal action and legal scholars ranging from the University of Mississippi to Harvard have raised concerns about the constitutionality of the law, which allows circuit court clerks and business owners to refuse service to same-sex married couples based on religious beliefs.

Proponents of the law continue to defend it, including the law’s author, House Speaker Philip Gunn, R-Clinton, and Sen. Jenifer Branning, R-Philadelphia, an attorney who discussed the bill on the Senate floor.

Hood said his office will have to determine whether to defend the law based on the issues raised when a suit is filed.

“It all depends on the facts of a case,” he said in an interview Monday with reporters. “Once it goes into effect, we’ll have to look at it at that time.”

“I don’t know for sure whether the law would be considered unconstitutional on its face,” Hood said. “But if it’s crystal clear it violates that last decision by the U.S. Supreme Court, I can’t ethically require my lawyers to go in and defend something that I think there’s zero chance of winning.”

The state’s top attorney fielded questions about his own personal convictions about the law, and how he balances them with his duty to defend the state. He said that he does not ask his staff attorneys about their partisanship, and he always gives them a chance to bow out of a case if they choose.

“The only times we don’t defend the state is when a case is just crystal clear and there’s no way a court would rule otherwise,” Hood said. “I ask the attorneys, ‘Can you, in your own ethical conscience, defend a case that is absolutely a loser?’ We don’t let our politics or emotion get involved. We try to follow the law as best we can.”

Hood, the lone Democrat in a statewide elected office, issued a statement the day Bryant signed the law, warning citizens that it would not grant them any protection in federal courts. On Monday, Hood said the law has negatively affected the state.

“Obviously, from the outcry of a lot of companies and people, it’s not been good for Mississippi,” Hood said. “I think over time, we will get through all this. It’s been unfortunate, and it has not made our state show its best moments.”

On Monday, singer Bryan Adams announced that he would protest House Bill 1523 by cancelling a performance scheduled for Thursday in Biloxi.

“ I cannot in good conscience perform in a State where certain people are being denied their civil rights due to their sexual orientation,” Adams posted on his Instagram and Facebook pages. “Hopefully Mississippi will right itself and I can come back and perform for all of my many fans. I look forward to that day.”

Matt McDonald, executive director of the Mississippi Coast Coliseum, where Adams was scheduled to perform, confirmed the cancellation.

“We certainly don’t like to have any shows cancel for any reasons, but it’s a cancellation and we treat it like any other and refund tickets,” McDonald said. He said the Coliseum was configured to seat 4,000 people for Adams’s performance, but the event was not sold out.

Contributing: Larrison Campbell