Dana Thomas, Communications Director

Mississippi Center for Justice

(O) 769.230.2841


Rob McDuff

McDuff & Byrd

(o) 601.259.8484

(o) 601.969.0802

(JACKSON, Miss.) – June 3, 2016. A group of Mississippi ministers, community leaders, and civic activists, along with a Hattiesburg church, today filed a new lawsuit in federal court in Jackson challenging House Bill 1523. The lawsuit claims the controversial measure violates the principle of the separation of church and state contained in the First Amendment of the Constitution.

The plaintiffs, represented by longtime civil rights lawyer Rob McDuff and the Mississippi Center for Justice, are asking the federal court to issue an injunction blocking the bill from taking effect on the scheduled date of July 1.

The lawsuit follows an earlier case filed by the ACLU challenging HB 1523 on different grounds. The ACLU suit also seeks an injunction prior to July 1.

Today’s lawsuit focuses on the language of Section 2 of HB 1523, which reads: “The sincerely held religious beliefs or moral convictions protected by this act are the belief or conviction that: (a) Marriage is or should be recognized as the union of one man and one woman; (b) Sexual relations are properly reserved to such a marriage; and (c) male (man) or female (woman) refer to an individual’s immutable biological sex as objectively determined by anatomy and genetics at time of birth.”

The lawsuit claims that by enacting HB 1523, the Legislature and the Governor “specifically endorsed certain narrow religious beliefs that condemn same-sex couples who get married, condemn unmarried people who have sexual relations, and condemn transgender people.” The lawsuit notes that the bill provides special legal protection exclusively to people holding those beliefs, but not for those who have different beliefs.

“The people bringing this lawsuit, like thousands of people in Mississippi, do not subscribe to the religious views set forth in the bill, and do not believe the government should be interfering in religion by choosing some religious views over others,” McDuff said. “Ensuring that government maintains neutrality on religious beliefs and respects religious diversity is part of our commitment to Mississippi as a social justice state,” said Beth Orlansky, advocacy director for the Mississippi Center for Justice. “Granting special protections to one set of religious views would allow legalized discrimination to put at risk decades of progress to secure full rights for all Mississippians.”

Plaintiffs in the case include long time civil rights advocates Rims Barber and Carol Burnett, who are ordained ministers; retired Millsaps Chaplain Don Fortenberry, also an ordained minister; the Joshua Generation Metropolitan Community Church in Hattiesburg, its Pastor Brandiilyne Magnum-Dear, and its Director of Worship Susan Magnum; Mississippi NAACP President Derrick Johnson; Founding Director Susan Glisson of the Winter Institute at the University of Mississippi; longtime therapist and activist Joan Bailey, artist and activist Katherine Day, and community activists Dorothy Triplett, Renick Taylor, and Anthony Laine Boyette.

“Over the past fifty years in Mississippi, I have joined hands with many others to stand up for the liberty and dignity of those whom society has shunned or discriminated against,” said Barber. “I cannot leave this law unchallenged.”

“This so-called Religious Freedom act has nothing to do with religion or conscience and everything to do with discrimination,” said Johnson. “Segregation and bans on interracial marriage were based on sincerely held religious beliefs, but those beliefs were wrong. I stand with all those today who challenge this troubling use of religion to target other groups.”

“My earliest memories are of Sunday School at the Southern Baptist church that my grandparents helped to found” recalls Glisson. “I was especially drawn to the story of the Good Samaritan and how Jesus turned the question of ‘who is my neighbor’ around to a better question, ‘how am I to be a neighbor, even and especially to people who the world might tell me to shun.’ I invite the Governor to recall those stories and hopefully be called back to the Christianity that I know, based on hospitality and welcome and justice and love.”

“As a lifelong Mississippian, a US Navy veteran, and a civil rights advocate, I must step up to challenge this law that would relegate me and others in the LGBT community to an inferior status,” said Taylor. “My faith and my commitment to my partner must not be devalued by this unjust law.”

“Simply put, HB1523 undermines the US Constitution in that it transgresses my inalienable right to live freely and pursue my happiness,” said Gray.

Read the full complaint here.