Jennifer Riley Collins of the Mississippi ACLU, Speaker Philip Gunn and Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves are among the state leaders sounding off about a federal appeals ruling upholding the state’s religious-objections law.


On Thursday, the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals reversed a U.S. District Court’s decision to strike down House Bill 1523. The move has several state leaders, advocates, attorneys, and plaintiffs involved in the appeals case sounding off. Their responses are posted in full below:

Lieutenant Governor Tate Reeves

House Bill 1523 simply protected Mississippians from government interference when practicing their deeply held religious beliefs, and I appreciate the Fifth Circuit clearing the path for this law to take effect.

House Speaker Philip Gunn

The whole objective was to protect religious freedoms. We are pleased to see that is now in effect.

Roberta Kaplan, lead attorney for plaintiffs in Campaign for Southern Equity suit

This decision is not only deeply upsetting for the rights of LGBT individuals living in Mississippi, but also for the protection of religious liberty in our country. Our clients have already suffered enough. The state communicated a message loudly and clearly with the passage of HB 1523: only certain anti-LGBT beliefs will get the protection and endorsement of the state. Under the logic of this opinion, it would be constitutional for the state of Mississippi to pass a law establishing Southern Baptist as the official state religion. We plan to seek an en banc review of the decision by the 5th Circuit.

Attorney General Jim Hood

Our office successfully created the record in defense of the state before the district court for the three judge panel of the Fifth Circuit to find that the plaintiffs did not have standing to sue. However, the panel did not find that the legislation is constitutional. Even if plaintiffs do not appeal this decision to the full Fifth Circuit or the United States Supreme Court, this decision means that new and additional lawsuits will likely be filed against the state, state officials, and county officials resulting in protracted litigation at taxpayer expense.

The AG has the duty to not pursue fruitless and expensive litigation, especially over a law that does nothing. HB 1523 was passed for political reasons to trick people of faith into thinking that it provided them some protection, when it does not. Both HB 1523’s critics and supporters acknowledged that the bill did not change state or federal law regarding the legality of gay marriage. As I said last summer, both the federal and Mississippi constitutions already protect individual citizens’ religious liberties. Instead, HB1523 has tarnished our state’s image and will cost the State in jobs and businesses who locate elsewhere, and in the expense of litigation.

Nevertheless, I will review any future challenges when and if they are filed. However, since the statute is now in effect, should a school district be sued over its restroom or locker room policy based upon sex at birth as stated in Section C, I would vigorously defend the right of schools to decide these issues based upon their ability to accommodate children who believe they are of the opposite sex from their birth. I joined other states in support of school boards’ authority in a recent case before the United States Supreme Court.

Kevin Theriot, senior counsel for Alliance Defending Freedom, attorneys representing Gov. Phil Bryant in the HB 1523 appeals

Good laws like Mississippi’s protect freedom and harm no one. The court did the right thing in finding that those who have challenged this law haven’t been harmed and, therefore, can’t try to take the law down. 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.

Those who filed suit have not and will not be harmed but want to restrict freedom and impose their beliefs on others by ensuring dissenters are left open to the government discrimination that has already occurred in states without protective laws like this one.”

Brandiilyne Mangum-Dear, a plaintiff in the Barber vs. Bryant lawsuit

We had to put guards in front of our church after the bill initially passed because there was a truck with a swastika parked across the street and just this week the Christian Knights of the KKK distributed flyers throughout the Hattiesburg area. Today’s ruling leaves us more exposed, so we will have to be more vigilant than ever before to protect our church, our families and our dignity.

Beth Littrell, counsel at Lambda Legal, the co-counsel for plaintiffs in the Barber v. Bryant appeals

Like anti-LGBT laws enacted in North Carolina and Texas, Mississippi’s HB 1523 has fueled a toxic environment of fear and prejudice in the state. This wave of anti-LGBT laws popping up in state houses across the country comes in defiance of the Supreme Court’s ruling for marriage equality – as measures to put LGBT people “back in their place.” But we will continue to fight in Mississippi and everywhere else discrimination rears its ugly head to ensure that LGBT people everywhere are respected and protected from discrimination.

This is not the end of the road for us. The Court’s ruling today is not an endorsement of the law, but a deferment to see the discrimination HB 1523 will cause. The court has said that LGBT people must endure more suffering before it believes in the damage that this law causes. If you have experienced discrimination, please contact our help desk and let us know.

Jennifer Riley Collins, executive director of the ACLU of Mississippi:

We are disappointed that the appeals court has reversed the preliminary injunction placed on HB 1523 and dismissed the case. This decision places the plaintiffs and thousands more LGBT Mississippians and single parents in a position where they can actually be harmed for living as their authentic selves. This broad license to discriminate includes provisions that would seek to allow state employees to withhold marriage licenses from same-sex couples.

We are ready to move forward with our case filed on behalf of ACLU members Nykolas Alford and Stephen Thomas, who are planning to marry in Mississippi in the near future. That case was put on hold until the court of appeals ruled. We will continue to proceed on behalf of Nykolas and Stephen to protect them, and other same-sex couples from this harmful and discriminatory law.

Freedom of religion is one of the most fundamental rights as Americans, but that freedom does not give any of us the right to harm or mistreat others.

The ACLU of Mississippi will continue to advocate for equal protection for our plaintiffs and the LGBT community in Mississippi. We stand ready to defend those who are harmed by any confrontations as a result of this ruling. We urge the community to contact us if they or someone they know experiences any discrimination.”

Beth Orlansky, advocacy director for the Mississippi Center for Justice

“HB 1523 violates a fundamental American value and strikes at the very heart of our work towards a fairer and more just state. This law is discriminatory, and we will do everything we can to prevent it from causing any more harm. By promoting a law that singles out a particular group for discriminatory treatment, the State of Mississippi sends a message to the rest of the country that not everyone is welcome in the ‘Hospitality State.’

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Kayleigh Skinner joined the Mississippi Today team in January 2017 as an education and legislative reporter and advanced to a senior staff member in her four years with the company. Before joining Mississippi Today, Kayleigh worked at The Hechinger Report, Chalkbeat Tennessee, and The Commercial Appeal. She has appeared on MSNBC, NPR, and BBC Newsday Radio to discuss her reporting.