The U.S. Supreme Court refused Jan. 8 to hear a challenge to a Mississippi law allowing government workers and businesses to deny services to LGBT persons and couples based on religious beliefs.
The nation’s high court declined to hear two cases challenging the constitutionality of House Bill 1523, a law that forbids the state from taking “discriminatory action” against persons who act in accordance with religious beliefs that marriage “is or should be recognized as the union of one man and one woman.”
Criticized as the most sweeping anti-LGBT bill since the Supreme Court legalized same-sex marriage nationwide in 2015, the “Protecting Freedom of Conscience from Government Discrimination Act” also protects the belief that “Male (man) or female (woman) refer to an individual’s immutable biological sex as objectively determined by anatomy and genetics at time of birth.”
In denying the case, justices left standing a lower court ruling that parties claiming the law favors one particular set of religious teachings about human sexuality over others and stigmatizes LGBT Mississippians lack standing to sue.
A group of 50 conservative Baptist pastors penned an open letter in 2016 affirming the legislation “wholeheartedly and without equivocation.” The Southern Baptist Convention’s Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission called it “an exemplary model for public policy.”
A smaller group of more progressive Baptist pastors, meanwhile, opposed the bill, saying it will lead to “increasing hostility and potential discrimination” against LGBT individuals and excessively entangle church and state.
The U.S. Civil Rights Commission denounced both the bill and a similar measure in North Carolina as part of “a larger, alarming trend to limit the civil rights of a class of people using religious beliefs as the excuse.”