UPDATED: ADF to Defend Bryant in HB 1523 Appeal, Emails Reveal Outside Groups' Influence | Jackson Free Press | Jackson, MS

UPDATED: ADF to Defend Bryant in HB 1523 Appeal, Emails Reveal Outside Groups' Influence

New York-based attorney Roberta Kaplan filed a public records request for all emails between Gov. Phil Bryant’s office and the Alliance Defending Freedom and other religious organization that supported HB1523 and put the emails in her latest court filing.

New York-based attorney Roberta Kaplan filed a public records request for all emails between Gov. Phil Bryant’s office and the Alliance Defending Freedom and other religious organization that supported HB1523 and put the emails in her latest court filing. Photo by Imani Khayyam.

— The Jackson Free Press has confirmed that the Alliance Defending Freedom, a controversial national legal group, will serve as co-counsel for Gov. Phil Bryant's appeal of House Bill 1523 to the U.S. 5th Circuit Court of Appeals in New Orleans. The organization also helped influence the writing of the "Freedom of Conscience from Government Discrimination Act," emails between the governor and the organization show.

In a court filing Wednesday, Roberta Kaplan, one of the lawyers representing plaintiffs in the case that blocked HB 1523 from becoming law in Mississippi, revealed numerous emails that show the Alliance Defending Freedom and other religious groups' influence on HB 1523.

Emails between Alliance Defending Freedom staff and Gov. Bryant's staff reveal that House Bill 1523 was based, at least in part, on a model executive order ADF sent to Gov. Bryant's office back in June 2015, right before the Obergefell ruling made same-sex marriage legal nationwide. ADF also offered to help the governor with "PR/messaging/support" as HB1523 made its way to the governor's desk.

Gov. Bryant has appealed U.S. District Judge Carlton Reeves' ruling to the 5th Circuit, as well as asked Judge Reeves for a stay in the preliminary injunction which blocked HB1523 from becoming law. When Attorney General Jim Hood announced that he would not appeal HB1523, Gov. Bryant announced on Facebook, "I have engaged nationally recognized appellate attorneys, at no cost to the taxpayers of Mississippi, to appeal the district court’s ruling."

ADF will serve as co-counsel, defending the governor in the 5th Circuit, Greg Scott, vice president of communications with ADF, told the Jackson Free Press via email. The legal fees will not cost taxpayers any money because ADF, a national legal organization that its website states advocates for "the right of people to freely live out their faith," represents its clients at no cost.

In response to the court's question about model legislation used to draft House Bill 1523, Kaplan filed a public-records request with Gov. Phil Bryant's office asking for any emails "between the office of Mississippi Governor Phil Bryant and the Alliance Defending Freedom ("ADF"), the American Family Association ("AFA"), and any other individual, organization, or entity that assisted in the drafting of or advised on HB 1523."

Kaplan says in her brief that the emails and documents provided "completely corroborate the substance of Professor Douglas NeJaime's expert testimony that HB 1523 was drafted by the ADF, was promoted by the ADF and other conservative Christian groups, and that, as a result, HB 1523 improperly and unconstitutionally reflects the sectarian Christian values of these organizations."

In an email to Drew Snyder and Jim Campbell in Gov. Phil Bryant's office, an Alliance Defending Freedom counselor sent model executive orders "that would prevent state governments from discriminating against their citizens because of their views about or actions concerning marriage." The email was sent on June 24, 2015, just days before the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in the Obergefell case that same-sex marriage should be recognized nationally.

The language used in the model executive orders looks very similar to House Bill 1523, including the three specific definitions of a religious belief or moral conviction used to support the whole bill.

Section 1 of the model policy states that:

"Notwithstanding any Order to the contrary, the State Government is prohibited form taking any action inconsistent with the restrictions placed upon the State Government by the United States constitution [or] the [STATE] constitution [or State RFRA], or any state law, against a person wholly or partially on the basis that such person believes or sincerely acts in accordance with a religious belief or moral conviction that: (1) marriage is or should be recognized as the union of one man and one woman; (2) sexual relations are properly reserved to such a marriage; or (3) male (man) or female (woman) refer to an individual's immutable biological sex as objectively determined by anatomy and genetics by time of birth."

The similarities between the model executive order and House Bill 1523 continue, emails show. The model executive order from ADF includes specific protections for religious organizations, clerks and magistrates and state employee speech.

Emails from March 31, 2016, show that representatives from the Alliance Defending Freedom offered to help the governor's office "from a PR/messaging/support perspective" before he signed the bill. Alliance from Defending Freedom personnel also sent Gov. Bryant two different drafts for his HB1523 signing speech.

Gov. Bryant and the executive director of the Mississippi Department of Human Services have appealed U.S. District Judge Carlton Reeves' ruling, which blocked House Bill 1523 from becoming law on July 1.

Email state reporter Arielle Dreher at arielle@jacksonfreepress.com. Follow her on Twitter @arielle_amara. For more HB1523 coverage visit jacksonfreepress.com/lgbt.

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