Barber v. Bryant (U.S.C.A Fifth Circuit, 2017)

Separation of Church & State

5th Circuit Court of Appeals ,

Separation of Church & State

This case involves the constitutionality of Mississippi HB 1523 — the so-called "Protecting Freedom of Conscience from Government Discrimination Act." HB 1523 provides sweeping, legal exemptions and immunities to public officials, individuals or business who or that hold one of three religious or moral beliefs: marriage should be limited to opposite sex-marriage; sexual relations should be limited to opposite-sex marriage; and "Male (man) or Female (woman) refer to an individual’s immutable biological sex as objectively determined by anatomy and genetics at time of birth." As a result, under the pretext of religious liberty, the law broadly authorizes discrimination against LGBT people and other Mississippians. A lower court ruled that HB 1523 violates the Establishment Clause. It found that the law's preference of one religion over others runs afoul of Larson v. Valente, 456 U.S. 228. ADL, joined by a diverse group of religious and civil rights groups, filed an amicus brief asserting that the Court should uphold the lower court's decision. The brief specifically argues that HB 1523 also violates the Establishment Clause under the well-settled Lemon and endorsement tests. The law's legislative record and general history reflect that it had an unlawful religious purpose, as well as unconstitutionally advances and endorses religion. Furthermore, HB 1523 is an invalid religious accommodation because unlike permissible accommodations, it is overly broad, unqualified, and not neutral among faiths, as well as imposes harms on others. In June 2017, the Fifth Circuit reversed the injunction against HB 1523, allowing the law to stand. On July 13, 2017, ADL joined an amicus brief urging the Fifth Circuit to rehear the case en banc (as a full court).