July 1, 2016
MINISTERS, COMMUNITY LEADERS, AND ACTIVISTS APPLAUD COURT DECISION STRIKING DOWN H.B. 1523
(JACKSON, Miss.) – June 30, 2016. A group of Mississippi ministers, community leaders, civic activists, and a Hattiesburg church who filed the first lawsuit challenging House Bill 1523 on the ground that it violates the principle of the separation of church and state, today applaud the decision of U.S. District Judge Carlton Reeves, who agreed with their arguments and issued a preliminary injunction prohibiting the controversial law from taking effect on July 1.
This broad collection of plaintiffs, which include gay, lesbian, transgender, and straight Mississippians, are represented by longtime civil rights lawyer Rob McDuff of McDuff & Byrd in Jackson, and by the Mississippi Center for Justice.
Their lawsuit was the most broad-based challenge filed against 1523, raising claims both under the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment and the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. It was joined for purposes of the preliminary injunction request with a subsequent Establishment Clause case filed by the Campaign for Southern Equality and a Hattiesburg minister who are represented by Roberta Kaplan, of the Paul Weiss firm in New York.
The initial case, filed by the twelve Mississippians and the Hattiesburg church, is known as Barber v. Bryant. The other case, filed a week after the Barber case, is known as Campaign for Southern Equality v. Bryant. Judge Reeves held a joint hearing on the preliminary request in both cases last Thursday and Friday, June 23-24.
Regarding today’s decision, McDuff said: “The federal court’s decision recognizes that religious freedom can be preserved along with equal rights for all people regardless of race, religion, or sexual orientation. Because H.B. 1523 was discriminatory, Judge Reeves properly held that it is unconstitutional. It is now time for all of us, as Mississippians, to move beyond division and come together in the ongoing pursuit of a society that respects the rights of everyone.”
“Our case presented the widest array of Mississippians to face harm if the statute had been allowed to go into effect,” said Beth Orlansky of the Mississippi Center for Justice. “Civic and business leaders properly condemned this statute, but it took the courage displayed by our clients to come forward and block this unconstitutional law.”
The plaintiffs in Barber v. Bryant joined their attorneys in applauding today’s decision prohibiting HB 1523 from taking effect.
“Our state legislature has no business passing a law that gives protections to one set of religious beliefs over another. When there is no separation of church and state there is no freedom of religion,” said Carol Burnett, a United Methodist minister in Biloxi.
“The passage of this bill signaled to our church, and to my wife and me, that our religious beliefs are less worthy of protection than those of others, and that the rights of gay, lesbian, and transgender people are not equal to the rights of others. We are thankful that the Court protected us from this mistreatment,” said Brandiilyne Magnum-Dear, minister of the Joshua Generation Metropolitan Community Church, which also was a plaintiff in the case.
The plaintiffs in Barber v. Bryant include longtime 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.
About the Mississippi Center for Justice The Mississippi Center for Justice is a nonprofit, public interest law firm committed to advancing racial and economic justice. Supported and staffed by attorneys, community leaders and volunteers, the Center develops and pursues strategies to combat discrimination and poverty statewide.
About McDuff & Byrd The Jackson, Mississippi law firm of McDuff & Byrd, and its attorneys --- Rob McDuff, Sibyl Byrd, and Jake Howard --- specialize in civil rights and criminal defense cases.