SAN ANTONIO -- The Texas Attorney General’s Office says its filing of an amicus brief in support of a Mississippi law blocked by a federal court judge before it took effect in July is part of a broader battle for religious freedom.
“We have a host of cases pending against the federal government due to the Obama administration’s overreach,” Marc Rylander, the OAG’s director of communications told the Southeast Texas Record.
The Amicus was filed by Texas on Nov. 3 on behalf of the states of Arkansas, Louisiana, Nebraska, Nevada, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Utah and Maine Gov. Paul LePage. It was filed in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 5th Circuit to support Mississippi’s appeal.
Called the “Protecting Freedom of Conscience from Government Discrimination Act,” Mississippi’s HB 1523 uses federal precedent to establish protections for “conscientious objectors” from being forced into some “certain conduct.”
Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton filed an amicus with the 5th District Court the week prior on behalf of the Birdville Independent School District, whose practice of prayer prior to school board meetings is being challenged by an atheist group.
Paxton's website says the group is trying to violate “student expressions.”
The Mississippi law prohibits the government from:
• Forcing a pastor to perform a same-sex wedding in violation of his religious convictions.
• Requiring religious adherents’ house of worship to host a same-sex wedding in violation of the adherents’ religion.
• Punishing foster or adoptive parents for raising their children according to their religion’s teachings regarding same-sex marriage.
• Compelling a person to create expressive works related to a same-sex wedding—such as photography or wedding-cake artistry—in violation of the person’s religious beliefs or moral convictions.
The Texas-led amicus supporting the Mississippi law cites legal precedent illustrating where other exemptions have been carved out for those citing religious conscience, among them vaccination requirements, advance directives and life-support decisions, and the distribution of contraceptives. It uses the 2015 Obergefell v. Hodges U.S. Supreme Court decision to claim a “mutuality of tolerance” cited by court.
“States and the federal government have a long history of protecting individual freedom by creating opt-out rights for conscientious objectors to certain conduct,” the case says.
Rylander said Paxton has been involved with similar cases at various levels of government that affect Texas residents and their rights to follow their religious beliefs.
“Some cases challenge statutes only Congress can change, some challenge agency rules that go through notice-and-comment rule-making, and some challenge informal agency guidance,” Rylander said.
He said there is hope the new Trump administration will work to pull back the federal government’s overreach.
“We will continue to pursue all of these cases and look forward to working with a new administration to seek to conform its actions to the Constitution,” Rylander said.
Paxton said on his website’s Nov. 11 weekly update that no matter who is in charge at the federal level, he wants to see the U.S. Constitution followed.
“Since the election, many constituents and representatives from the media have contacted my office to inquire whether [last] Tuesday’s results would impact the mound of cases my office has pending against the federal government,” he said. “The answer depends on this new administration. No president, regardless of political party, has a free pass to violate the U.S. Constitution. Litigation initiated by my office, therefore, will proceed until the federal government stops overreaching beyond its constitutional bounds.”