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Attorney General will not appeal block on HB 1523

JACKSON, MISS– Attorney General Jim Hood announced Wednesday that he will not appeal the block on the Religious Liberties Accommodation Act, also known as HB 1523. 

The legislation, blocked by U.S. District Judge Carlton Reeves, would have allowed for members of the clergy, state workers, circuit clerks, and business owners to turn away patrons from the LGBTQ community, or anyone else based on religious convictions.

Hood released the following 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.

U.S. District Judge Carlton Reeves issued a block on the law on June 30th, just hours before it would have taken effect on July 1.  One week later Governor Phil Bryant appealed the block, and asked that it go into effect while the appeal was being considered.

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