AG Hood won't appeal injunction against religious freedom law - WLBT.com - Jackson, MS

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AG Hood won't appeal injunction against religious freedom law

Source: WLBT archives Source: WLBT archives
Source: WLBT Source: WLBT
Source: WLBT Source: WLBT
JACKSON, MS (WLBT) -

Attorney General Jim Hood will not appeal the Religious Accommodations Act.

Read his statement:

After careful review of the law, and the social and fiscal impacts of HB 1523, I have decided not to appeal the Federal Court's injunction in this case against me. I am convinced that continuing this divisive and expensive litigation is not in the best interests of the state of Mississippi or its taxpayers.

First, both HB 1523's critics and supporters acknowledge that the bill did not change state or federal law. For example, there is no state law requiring pastors to marry same-sex couples, and I doubt that the Legislature would ever pass one.  Moreover, the Mississippi Legislature has already passed the Religious Freedom Restoration Act which protects a person’s right to exercise his or her religious beliefs.  HB 1523's critics and supporters also recognize that HB 1523 cannot overturn or preempt federal law.  As acknowledged by our Governor, HB 1523 is not a defense to a federal lawsuit.

Simply stated, all HB 1523 has done is tarnish Mississippi’s image while distracting us from the more pressing issues of decaying roads and bridges, underfunding of public education, the plight of the mentally ill and the need to solve our state's financial mess.

Instead of focusing on these critical issues, our state leaders have given away the store by handing tax breaks to big corporations that neither need nor deserve them. Due to the leadership's corporate handouts, corporations have paid $117.8 million less in taxes in FY2016 than FY2015, according to the Legislative Budget Office.  That is a 16 percent tax cut for big corporations in one year. These corporate tax cuts will conservatively increase to at least $181 million during this fiscal year, according to LBO. In addition to the $56 million legislative "mistake", at least another $79 million will not be available next year, for a bare minimum of a $135 million budget hole. The numbers do not lie that we have a budget crisis that will cause a danger to our families from the mentally ill problem alone.

Second, to appeal HB 1523 and fight for an empty bill that dupes one segment of our population into believing it has merit while discriminating against another is just plain wrong. I don't believe that's the way to carry out Jesus' primary directives to protect the least among us and to love thy neighbor.

But make no mistake, the Office of Attorney General is prepared to protect religious freedoms and defend our First Amendment rights if and when the facts so justify in future cases.

Public employees, including elected officials, have an unspoken contract with the state to follow the law. Misinformation that, without HB 1523, pastors, churches, bakers, wedding planners or other private service providers will be forced to violate their religious beliefs has been used repeatedly to frighten our citizens into supporting the dogmatic politicians who use religion for political gain.

In the event that the Federal Court’s injunction was overturned on appeal, this litigation would not end. These cases would be set for a full evidentiary trial.  Other challenges would likely be filed.  The state would face years of additional and expensive litigation over HB 1523's implementation.  My office is already spending its limited resources defending numerous lawsuits challenging recent bills enacted by the Legislature regarding abortion restrictions, MAEP funding, Planned Parenthood funding, the Jackson-Evers International Airport and charter schools. In addition, my office will continue to try to serve the families of homicide victims as well as surviving victims of domestic violence, human trafficking and other violent crimes, including our injured law enforcement officers, firefighters and first responders.  We will attempt to do all of this as the Legislature hands out ill-advised tax cuts to corporations, runs a budget deficit, slashes funding for this office and other state agencies, and cuts critical services to citizens.

I will, however, continue to monitor the lawsuits regarding HB 1523 and may appeal the federal court’s June 27 decision to reopen the closed same-sex marriage case depending on the wording of the Court’s final order.  I don't believe a federal court had jurisdiction to extend the previous injunction to all circuit clerks who were not parties.

Two weeks ago, a federal judge blocked House Bill 1523, which would've allowed private businesses to refuse service to the LGBT community based off of religious background and beliefs.

LGBT supporters applaud Attorney General Jim Hood's decision. 

"The case has no hope, no appeal is going to win. This is so clearly a first amendment, 14th amendment case and Judge Carlton Reeves has already put this out in black and white," said Charlene Smith-Smathers, a LGBT community activist. "Mississippi's governor us hiring an out of state attorney to take this case there's a problem there for me there is. It's all economics at this point too."

After the judge's ruling, Hood released a statement, saying in part that "the churchgoing public was duped into believing that HB1523 protected religious freedoms." At the time, he said his office was evaluating the decision to determine whether or not to appeal all or parts of the ruling. 

Later Wednesday afternoon, Governor Bryant issued the following statement:

"I'm obviously disappointed the attorney general has abandoned his duty to defend the constitutionality of a duly enacted statute. I have engaged nationally recognized appellate attorneys, at no cost to the taxpayers of Mississippi, to appeal the district court’s ruling. This appeal is about the state’s legitimate interest in protecting religious liberty – not political posturing about tax reform or the state budget. Mississippi Democrats’ failed policies have rendered them unable to win elections, so they have joined secular progressives in their attempts to legislate through the courts."

Gov. Phil Bryant originally signed the Religious Accommodations Act on April 5.

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