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Freedom Reigns: Supreme Court Declines to Hear Case Challenging Mississippi Conscience Law

A Mississippi law protecting its citizens’ freedoms can remain in effect, thanks to the U.S. Supreme Court declining to hear the case Barber v. Bryant today.

Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF) attorneys were privileged to be a part of the attorney team representing Mississippi Governor Phil Bryant and defending the Protecting Freedom of Conscience from Government Discrimination Act. By not taking up this case, the Supreme Court leaves in place a unanimous ruling from the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit that rejected a challenge to this state law.

This is great news!

This law, passed in 2016, protects citizens, public servants, businesses, and religious institutions from government punishment for operating publicly according to their belief that marriage is between one man and one woman.

This is an important protection to put in place, as Christians across the country face penalties and government punishment simply for living according to their beliefs about marriage. In fact, ADF attorneys went before the Supreme Court just last month to defend such an individual, Colorado cake artist Jack Phillips. Jack declined to design a custom cake for a same-sex wedding because of his beliefs about marriage. And even though he offered to sell the couple anything else in his store, or to design a cake for a different event, he was sued. He has lost 40 percent of his business as a result of this lawsuit.

ADF is also defending a number of other creative professionals across the country who are facing similar situations: a floral artist in Washington, a T-shirt printer in Kentucky, filmmakers in Minnesota, a custom art studio in Arizona, and a graphic designer in Colorado.

We’re getting the message loud and clear from those who oppose laws like Mississippi’s: They want any beliefs about marriage different from their own to be silenced – and even punished.

In fact, when this Mississippi law went into effect, opponents of the law filed a lawsuit, and a federal court agreed to block the law – despite the fact that 63 percent of state voters supported the law.

Thankfully, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit reversed that ruling. And the Supreme Court’s actions today leave that ruling in place.

“The sole purpose of this law is to ensure that Mississippians don’t live in fear of losing their careers or their businesses simply for affirming marriage as a husband-wife union,” said ADF Senior Counsel Kevin Theriot. “Those who filed suit have not and will not be harmed but want to restrict freedom and impose their beliefs on others by ensuring dissenters are left open to the government discrimination that has already occurred in states without protective laws like this one.”

The government should not be permitted to discriminate against citizens because of their beliefs about marriage.

In the majority opinion in Obergefell v. Hodges, Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy noted that the belief that marriage is the union between one man and one woman is held “in good faith by reasonable and sincere people here and throughout the world.” And in oral arguments in Jack’s case just last month, Kennedy noted: “[T]olerance is essential in a free society. And tolerance is most meaningful when it's mutual. It seems to me that the state in its position here has been neither tolerant nor respectful of Mr. Phillips's religious beliefs.”

We should all be able to support the freedom for all people to live consistently with their convictions, even if we disagree. This Mississippi law protects that freedom, and it is a great example of how other states can protect that freedom moving forward.

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Sarah Kramer

Digital Content Specialist

Sarah worked as an investigative reporter before joining the Alliance Defending Freedom team.

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