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Federal Judge Strikes Down Mississippi Religious Objections Law

DAVID GREENE, HOST:

A new law in Mississippi was supposed to go into effect today. It said many business owners, say bakers or wedding photographers, would not be punished by the state for refusing to serve gay couples. The state's lieutenant governor, Tate Reeves, said this was protecting the fundamental right to practice religion for people who had certain beliefs about marriage and gender identity. Last night, though, a federal judge stopped the law from taking effect.

Susan Hrostowski sued to block the law. This was very personal for her.

SUSAN HROSTOWSKI: I'm an Episcopal priest. And I'm kind of crazy about the Gospel and kind of crazy about Jesus. And his message was that we should love one another. So I found this bill to be offensive from that perspective. But then also, as a lesbian, I've been with my wife for 27 years now. And we have a son. And so for both of those reasons, I just fought to make sure that people like me weren't mistreated in the state of Mississippi.

GREENE: So what is your reaction to the judge's decision to block this law?

HROSTOWSKI: Well, we're elated of course. You know, it was very interesting. Towards the end of the hearing, the judge was asking the state what were the non-religious reasons for this bill. And they said, well, Obergefell tipped the tables of justice away from people who are against gay marriage.

GREENE: This was the big Supreme Court decision in favor of same-sex marriage you're talking about.

HROSTOWSKI: That's correct. And Judge Reeves said, well, isn't that like saying Brown vs. the Board of Education tipped the tables away from segregationists? You know, when you have an oppressed population and they make some gains, that doesn't mean the oppressor has the right to retaliate, I guess, is a way of putting it.

GREENE: As a priest, do you have any empathy at all for someone who feels that their own religion prevents them from understanding a same-sex couple?

HROSTOWSKI: Of course, certainly. And it's now trite to say, you know, if you don't believe it, if it's offensive to you, then don't do it. Sure, everyone has the right to their own religious beliefs but not to the point that practicing those would impinge on my beliefs and on my freedoms.

GREENE: All right. Let's hear another voice now. Mississippi's attorney general, Jim Hood - a Democrat - reluctantly defended this law, saying it was his job to do that, though he worried about his state's reputation if the law took affect. Here is his reaction to the judge's decision.

JIM HOOD: It wasn't really a surprise that the court enjoined the religious liberties bill passed in Mississippi this past spring. Unfortunately, you know, I think some of these people that were making these statements were playing to the religious crowd. They had passed a religious liberty bill in 2014 that the court actually quotes the Religious Freedom and Restoration Act. So they really already had what little protections are available on religious liberties issues. And I think that, you know, through this most recent legislation they went for a victory lap. You know, and they were, you know, playing to the crowds.

So our office has to look at - long and hard as to whether or not we appeal my part of the case, me being sued as an individual, to go forward. And, you know, we have to look at it in light of our budget crisis. We have not made a decision as to whether or not we will appeal any or parts of this decision that was handed down last night.

GREENE: The voice of Mississippi Attorney General Jim Hood responding to a decision of a federal judge to overturn Mississippi's so-called religious liberties law. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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