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Attorney General Jim Hood said in a statement Friday that he is unsure if the state should appeal the federal court ruling that blocks Mississippi’s controversial “religious freedom” law, House Bill 1523.
“The federal court’s ruling was straightforward and clear,” Hood’s statement read. “On page 9, the court quotes statements made by legislators, the Governor and Lieutenant Governor. The court found that those statements, along with the inclusion of the term “sincerely held religious beliefs” and the definition thereof in HB 1523, were strong evidence that the law was unconstitutional.”
Gov. Phil Bryant called for a vigorous appeal of the decision in a statement issued earlier Friday. Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves also called Friday for an appeal to be made.
“In 2014, the state enacted the Religious Freedom and Restoration Act, which created a right of citizens to sue the state in state court if they felt that their religious freedoms were being overburdened,” Hood’s statement continued. “The federal court observed that this act was already in law when those officials went for a second victory lap to reinvigorate the support of churchgoing people by passing HB 1523 in an overtly political fashion.”
“I can’t pick my clients, but I can speak for myself as a named defendant in this lawsuit. The fact is that the churchgoing public was duped into believing that HB1523 protected religious freedoms,” said Hood, the only Democrat to hold statewide elected office. “Our state leaders attempted to mislead pastors into believing that if this bill were not passed, they would have to preside over gay wedding ceremonies. No court case has ever said a pastor did not have discretion to refuse to marry any couple for any reason. I hate to see politicians continue to prey on people who pray, go to church, follow the law and help their fellow man.”
“Our attorneys will evaluate this decision to determine whether or not to appeal all or parts of Thursday’s ruling,” his statement read. “We do intend to appeal the Court’s decision earlier in the week to extend the injunction to cover circuit clerks, who were never parties to the case.”
“I believe in the free exercise of religion and there will be a case in the future in which the U.S. Supreme Court will better define our religious rights. This case, however, is not that vehicle,” Hood said.
“In consideration of the individual rights of all our citizens, the state’s current budget crisis and the cost of appeal, I will have to think long and hard about spending taxpayer money to appeal the case against me,” he said.
“An appeal could cost the state hundreds of thousands of dollars. For example, North Carolina has set aside $500,000 for defense of its bathroom law. Even if we won and the injunction were set aside on appeal, the case would be remanded and proceed to trial over about two years,” the statement read. “Because of the huge tax breaks handed out to big corporations by these same leaders, the state is throwing mentally ill patients out on the street. This is hardly protecting the least among us as Jesus directed.”