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“Mississippi Goddamn”: ‘Religious Liberty Act’

In 1964, a year after Philip A. Gunn, current Speaker of the Mississippi House of Representative, was born the Klu Klux Klan beat several members of the Mt. Zion Methodist Church before burning their church to the ground. The Klan was looking for two ‘outside agitators’ and their local black accomplice. Andrew Goodman, Michael Schwerner and James Chaney were not there that night. Several months later, however, the three men were detained by Mississippi law enforcement and handed over to the Klan. They were shot to death and buried in an earthen dam a few miles from Mt. Zion Methodist Church.

The concept of an ‘outside agitator’, at the time, signified persons and organizations from outside of the state of Mississippi working with collaborators within the state to restructure social relations. With the introduction of House Bill No. 1523, Speaker Gunn has lived to usher in a welcomed collaboration with ‘outside agitators’. The ‘outside agitators’ that have enlisted Speaker Gunn as their local accomplice are groups like the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC). Based in Arlington, Virgina, this organization and organizations like them draft and share model state-level legislation like House Bill No. 1523 introduced as the “Religious Liberty Accommodations Act.”

By the time House Bill No. 1523 reached Governor Phil Bryant’s desk it had done a ‘David Duke’. The blunt language of bigotry had been stripped down to the legal vocabulary of discrimination that the State of Mississippi practically invented. So as not to arouse the suspicion of lesser minds, the “Religious Liberty Act” was renamed “Protecting Freedom of Conscience from Government Discrimination Act”.By the time House Bill No. 1523 reached Governor Phil Bryant desk it had done a ‘David Duke’. The blunt language of bigotry had been stripped down to the legal vocabulary of discrimination that the State of Mississippi practically invented. So as not to arouse the suspicion of lesser minds, the “Religious Liberty Act” was renamed “Protecting Freedom of Conscience from Government Discrimination Act”. It appears that the sincerely held “moral convictions” of the Mississippi Legislators that introduced and sponsored House Bill No. 1523 loss some of their courage when it came to passing and singing the legislation. Let us consider House Bill No. 1523 as Speaker Gunn submitted to the Mississippi House of Representatives and as it was passed by the House.

In 1964, a year after Philip A. Gunn, current Speaker of the Mississippi House of Representative, was born the Klu Klux Klan beat several members of the Mt. Zion Methodist Church before burning their church to the ground. The Klan was looking for two ‘outside agitators’ and their local black accomplice. Andrew Goodman, Michael Schwerner and James Chaney were not there that night. Several months later, however, the three men were detained by Mississippi law enforcement and handed over to the Klan. They were shot to death and buried in an earthen dam a few miles from Mt. Zion Methodist Church.

The concept of an ‘outside agitator’, at the time, signified persons and organizations from outside of the state of Mississippi working with collaborators within the state to restructure social relations. With the introduction of House Bill No. 1523, Speaker Gunn has lived to usher in a welcomed collaboration with ‘outside agitators’. The ‘outside agitators’ that have enlisted Speaker Gunn as their local accomplice are groups like the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC). Based in Arlington, Virgina, this organization and organizations like them draft and share model state-level legislation like House Bill No. 1523 introduced as the “Religious Liberty Accommodations Act.”

 

By the time House Bill No. 1523 reached Governor Phil Bryant’s desk it had done a ‘David Duke’. The blunt language of bigotry had been stripped down to the legal vocabulary of discrimination that the State of Mississippi practically invented. So as not to arouse the suspicion of lesser minds, the “Religious Liberty Act” was renamed “Protecting Freedom of Conscience from Government Discrimination Act”. It appears that the sincerely held “moral convictions” of the Mississippi Legislators that introduced and sponsored House Bill No. 1523 loss some of their courage when it came to passing and singing the legislation. Let us consider House Bill No. 1523 as Speaker Gunn submitted it to the Mississippi House of Representatives and as it was passed by the House.

Protected by this act are religious beliefs and moral convictions that: (a) Marriage is or should be recognized as the union of one man and one woman; (b) Sexual relations are properly reserved to such a marriage; and (c) Male (man) or female (woman) refer to an individual’s immutable biological sex as objectively determined by anatomy and genetics at time of birth.

Viewed from the vantage point of moral convictions, religious beliefs and freedom of conscience: (a) a Catholic florist could refuse service to a divorced bride or groom entering their second marriage based on Catholic doctrine that their first spouse is the one man or one woman to whom they are married until death does them part; (b) a pregnant bride could legally be refused a wedding venue for having had sexual relations that this bill reserves for marriage; and (c) babies born with both male and female external genitalia or with internal genitalia that is not consistent with the infant’s external genitalia would be subjected to social sexual norms absent test and development to determine the infants true sex. Leaving aside for the moment Mississippi’s troubled history with making law based on eugenics and the immutable biology of black bodies, we would be wise not to forget that some of us did and some still do believe that it is against God and nature for one black woman to marry one white man. We are not strangers to using the bible to justify slavery and Jim Crow laws that regulate sexual relations.

Other Republican controlled state Houses of Representatives have considered and passed a version of House Bill No. 1523. Mississippi, however, has passed and signed into law a version of the bill that hearkens back to a time when similar provisions in the bill were laws that regulated the social relations of slaves and ‘free’ blacks during the era of Jim Crow. As the first Republican Speaker of the Mississippi House of Representative since Reconstruction (1865-1876), Speaker Gunn (2012 – Present) has embraced a group of ‘outside agitators’ skillfully playing to fears and instincts of a closed society and feudal government that has historically demonstrated an efficient ruthlessness in how it manages and mechanizes bigotry.

“An unwritten law had been devised to replace the slave code of 1857. ‘Few of its provisions could be found in the statute books. Its application was at times capricious and unpredictable. But, in general, members of both races understood and observed its content. In almost any conceivable contact with a white man, there were certain forms of behavior which the black man must observe. The Negro, at last was in his place.’” (Silver, Mississippi:Closed Society, 18)

House Bill No. 1523 is the latest extension of the caste system that Mississippi methodically substituted for slavery for over a century. Concealed in a cloak of seemingly benign protections for freedom of conscience is a dagger that the Mississippi House of Representatives uses to assault the First Amendment, the Fourteenth Amendment and to threaten our economic growth. Same-sex marriage is the dagger. Signing House Bill No. 1523 into law, Governor Phil Bryant (2012- Present) has set the state up for a potentially expensive conflict between provisions of the law and First and Fourteenth Amendment protections that the U.S. Constitution affords all Mississippians.

In what portends a second battle front for House Bill No. 1523, a current challenge to sexual orientation discrimination proceeding through federal courts, if successful, could recast House Bill No. 1523 as an act of sexual discrimination. Concluding that the distinction between sexual orientation discrimination is not a category distinct from sex or gender discrimination, U.S. District Judge Dean Pregerson, for the central district of California, has allowed a sexual orientation discrimination case against a private university affiliated with the Churches of Christ to proceed. Depending on the outcome of Videckis and White v. Pepperdine University, House Bill No. 1523 could effectively be challenged as state sanctioned gender stereotype and sexual discrimination.

If the economic boycott that is building steam against states who adopt different versions of House Bill No. 1523 materializes in Mississippi, we will be hit harder than any other state that has signed this legislation into law. Mississippi is the nation’s poorest state averaging a poverty rate of 24%. We are more dependent on federal spending than any other state. For every $1.00 that we pay in federal taxes we get back roughly $2.47. ALEC, the conservative organizations that drafted the model-legislation for House Bill No. 1523, gives education in Mississippi a C- indicating an acute disadvantage in so far as education is important to our efforts to attract and staff companies that may consider locating their facilities in Mississippi.

House Bill No. 1523 deals with (a) marriage, (b) sexual relations (c) sexual identity. In a manner consistent with a ‘sincerely held religious belief or moral conviction’, public accommodation and services can be denied based on sexual orientation and or sexual identity. When ALEC spoon fed this model legislation to Speaker Gun, it was as stated above playing to Mississippi’s worst fears and instincts. Our state history also bares the birthmark of our better natures. In 1873 the Supreme Court of Mississippi in Donnell v. State considered and upheld the equal accommodations provisions of Mississippi’s ‘civil rights’ bill as applied to a Negro theater patron. Justice Simrall, speaking for the court, noted that “the ’13th, 14th and 15th amendments of the constitution of the United States, are the logical results of the late civil war,’ id., at 675, and concluded that the ‘fundamental idea and principle pervading these amendments, is an impartial equality of rights and privileges, civil and political, to all ‘citizens of the United States’.”

“The argument of the Attorney General of Mississippi in Donnell v. State, 48 Miss. 661, explicitly related the State’s new public accommodations law to the Thirteenth and Fourteenth Amendments. He stated that the Amendments conferred a national ‘power to enforce, ‘by appropriate legislation,’ these rights, privileges and immunities of citizenship upon the newly enfranchised; he then concluded that ‘the legislature of this state has sought, by this (anti-discrimination) act, to render any interference by congress unnecessary.’ Id., at 668.”

House Bill No. 1523 allows persons appointed or elected to public office the discretion based on religious beliefs or moral convictions not to fulfill their oaths and duty to the public they choose to serve. In other words, under this law, there will not be a repeat – in Mississippi- of the spectacle made by the Rowan County Kentucky clerk who could not find a space on the list of ‘sins’ for which she will have to answer, the ‘sin’ of signing a same-sex wedding certificate. One wonders had she been the ‘unclean’ woman at the well, would she have judged herself unworthy to “touch the hem of His garment?” (Matthew 9:20) The woman who highlighted for Mississippi, the banality of “clerks, registers of deeds or their deputies” abusing their office and ‘the public trust’ is Fannie Lou Hamer. When you get to this part of House Bill No. 1523, renamed in committee “Protecting Freedom of Conscience from Government Discrimination Act.”, you can almost hear Fannie Lou’s famous chuckle.

“Well, when I first tried to register it was in Indianola. I went to Indianola on the thirty-first of August in 1962; that was to try to register. When we got there—there was eighteen of us went that day—so when we got there, there were people there with guns and just a lot of strange-looking people to us. We went on in the circuit clerk’s office, and he asked us what did we want; and we told him what we wanted. We wanted to try to register. He told us that all of us would have to get out of there except two. So I was one of the two persons that remained inside, to try to register, [with] another young man named Mr. Ernest Davis. We stayed in to take the literacy test. So the registrar gave me the sixteenth section of the Constitution of Mississippi. . . .” – Fannie Lou Hamer, 1962

Taking the “it’s not you it’s me” break-up line to biblical extremes, House Bill No. 1523 dusts off decades of housing discrimination based on skin colour and ethnicity to posit “religious beliefs and moral convictions” as a legitimate reason to reject an application to rent an apartment, lease a wedding tent or reserve a hotel room for a same-sex couple. Under this law, ‘Inn keepers’ can eyeball members of the public and tell them that there is ‘no room at the inn’ if they feel renting to them is inconsistent with sincerely held religious beliefs or moral convictions. The idea of selectively denying services to members of the public is based on a notion that persons of faith should not be “forced” to violate their religious beliefs or moral convictions.

In the form that House Bill No. 1523 was summited to the legislature by Speaker Gunn, it offers as an example, “religious adoption and foster care agencies. . .forced to close because of their sincerely held religious beliefs about marriage.” Chick-fil-A and Hobby Lobby close on Sunday and religious holidays. They choose to forgo the financial gain of Sunday sales. Theirs is an example of having the courage of convictions. Choices have consequences.

House Bill No. 1523, however, allows businesses on any day to effectively be closed to a specific category of customers that persons with “sincerely held religious beliefs or moral convictions” find objectionable. If a business in Mississippi can not refuse customers based on their “sincerely held religious beliefs or moral convictions”, House Bill No. 1523 protects the business’ claim that having to serve undesirables is “forcing” them to violate their “sincerely held religious beliefs or moral convictions”. If the business chooses to close rather than violate their “sincerely held religious beliefs or moral convictions”, House Bill No. 1253 supports their claim that they are being “forced” out of business.

In terms of laws and law making, “force” is an exercise of power buttressed by the state’s monopoly of violence. When the Mississippi House of Representatives makes law, the concept of “force” assumes the weight and responsibility that comes with the state’s monopoly of violence and enforcing the law. Affording “sincerely held religious beliefs and moral convictions” the power of the state to discriminate based religious beliefs and moral convictions bastardizes the birth of this nation. Before gathering on these shores to rape and pillage land peopled by Native Americans, pilgrims left a life in Europe in which they could go to bed Protestants and wake Catholic depending on the outcome of a military campaign. Catholics who did not yield to the ‘supremacy’ of the Church of England faced death, imprisonment and in some cases starvation as food shipment to Catholic areas were deliberately curtailed. Where Catholicism prevailed, Protestants suffered varying degrees of Martin Luther’s fate in the hands of government agents aligned with the Catholic church.

We need look no further than our own state history to find real – not imagined- examples of how of our state’s monopoly of violence has been used to curtail religious beliefs and moral convictions. In 1963, 28 white Methodist ministers published an article in the Mississippi Methodist Advocate titled, “Born of Conviction”. (Silver, Mississippi:Closed Society, 58) They were advocating universal brotherhood, the freedom to preach this message and “that there be no color bar in the Christian church”. (Silver, Mississippi:Closed Society, 59) The Mississippi House of Representatives “in order to discipline the Methodist hierarchy, passed a measure permitting an individual church to secede from its central organization and keep its property.” A ‘man’ made government in this world decided to separate ‘the sheep from the goats’ based on their religious beliefs and moral convictions.

Rabbi Charles Mantinband of Hattisburg Mississippi was forced to leave the state for challenging the status-quo of race relations in Mississippi. While he was on vacation in 1958, the Citizens Council suggested “to his temple that they should get rid of the mischief-making rabbi” else they could not “be responsible for the consequences.” (Silver, Mississippi:Closed Society, 57) House Bill No. 1523, mere consideration of what persons with “sincerely held religious beliefs and moral convictions” are “forced” to do is an aggravated insult to common sense and Christianity. Force? Force is burning down black churches. Force is bombing black churches. Force, is police officers moonlighting as Klansmen, burning a cross in the front yard of a black family’s house in the middle of the night. Force is government regulated selling off members of black families for financial gain in accordance with ‘black codes’ and moral convictions that whites are superior.

With House Bill No. 1523, the Mississippi House of Representatives wants to barter on bad credit for the ‘religious liberty’ of persons with ‘sincerely held moral convictions’ pertaining (a) marriage, (b) sexual relations and (c) sexual identity. One need look no further than recent terrorist acts masking self-interested agendas in the name of Islam to understand that ‘religious beliefs and moral convictions’ can just as well make fools of men as in tandem they can make men of “God”. What does it say about us that we only see terrorism when the pronounced faith of people who hijack the lives of others differs from our “sincerely held religious beliefs or moral convictions”?

StealthC

“Oh! Lord!” Adams lamented to Jefferson in 1817. “Do you think that a Protestant Popedom is annihilated in America? Do you recollect, or have you ever attended to the ecclesiastical Strifes in Maryland, Pensilvania, New York, and every part of New England? What a mercy it is that these People cannot whip and crop, and pillory and roast, as yet in the U.S.! If they could they would.” (Jacoby, Freethinkers, 66) That same year on December 10 in 1817, Mississippi wrote a constitution and applied to Congress for statehood. For far too long we have been John Adams’ nightmare, not the American Dream! House Bill No. 1523 is a new horror in the long dark sleep that is the history, present and possibly the future of Mississippi unless we dare to dream!

If most Mississippians knew our history as well as we tend to remember it, the election and swearing in of Phillip A. Gunn as the first Republican Speaker of the Mississippi House of Representatives since reconstruction would have been a memorial service not a celebration. Abraham Lincoln was the head of the Republican Party as Speaker Gunn’s Republican predecessor John R. Lynch was freed from slavery (1863), earned his law degree and served in the military on his way to being elected the first African-American Speaker (1874-1877) of the Mississippi House of Representatives.

Today, Donald Trump is a viable head of a very different Republican Party that allied itself for over a century with the self-interest of segregationist and white supremacists. The charge here is not simply that there is what Colin Powell described as a ‘dark vein of intolerance’ in the Republican Party demonstrated by the passing and signing into law of House Bill No. 1523. The charge here is a naked power play after the balance of political power in Washington DC was no longer kept in check by counting slaves as 3/5 of a person. After the Civil War and Reconstruction the Republican Party faced former slaves states that would have more political power in the U.S. Congress counting non-voting free blacks than they had counting non-voting slaves as 3/5 of a person.

On the floor of the 1890 convention, Judge J. J. Chrisman declared: “. . .it is no secret that there has not been a full vote and a fair count in Mississippi since 1875 – that we have been preserving the ascendancy of the white people by revolutionary methods. In plain words we have been stuffing the ballot boxes, committing perjury, and . . .carrying the elections by fraud and violence until the whole machinery was about to rot down. No man can be in favor of the election methods which have prevailed. . . who is not a moral idiot.” (Silver, Mississippi:Closed Society,16)

Over the 132 years of Republican absence from the Speakership of the Mississippi House of Representatives, the Republican Party strategically became the brand equity of disenfranchisement and intolerance. There was a South long before Lee Atwater’s Southern strategy. The Civil War freed the politics of the South from plantations and plantation societies. The Republican party drew power from divisive Southern politics to advance small government and free market principles nationally. Now the politics of intolerance, divisiveness and bigotry rooted in different parts of the country are coalescing around the ‘REBEL YELL!‘ of a New York City businessman for whom the apparatus of the Republican Party is little more than a bullhorn.

During the long absence of Republicans from the Speakership of the Mississippi House of Representatives, the Grand Old Party (GOP) of Lincoln died and was reborn on its death bed (Reconstruction) the Grand Ole Party (GOP). The new Ole GOP is coming of age in Mississippi. While the country as a whole steps forward, Mississippi baits the backwardness of our past and switches a better future for it. With callous self-righteous blasphemy, the substance of what some faithful hope for has become the judgment they impute to the laws of ‘mankind’ in this world– the “Religious Liberty Act”. Passed by the Mississippi House of Representatives, House Bill No. 1523 is not only the latest legislative extension of Mississippi’s caste system, it is another attack in a barbaric culture war. Donald Trump may or may not get a chance to “Make America Great Again”. No matter the outcome of the next national election, the ‘Great State of Mississippi’ will continue to lead by example, if for no other reason than by “Again”, Donald Trump is referring to a time before the birth of Mississippi House Speaker Philip A. Gunn.

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GOLEP

The Science Behind Why People Think Stereotypes Are True

Trump Jr.:” Mississippi Burning.”

Susan Jacoby, Freethinkers: A History of American Secularism (New York: Henry Hold & Co., 2004) 66

James Silver, Mississippi: The Closed Society (New York: Harvest Book,1966) 16, 18, 57, 58, 59

Curriculum Vitae

Tom L. States PhD Candidate

Fields of Interest: Political Theory, International Relations, Marxist Political Economy

Research Topic: eRacism - Conflicts of Difference

Education History: Williams College, BA Political Science; New York University, MA Politics; York University PhD Candidate

Languages: English, German

Hometown: Greenwood, Mississippi

Words of Wisdom: “IT” is what you are when you are young. Your youth mistakes certainty of the few things that you think you know for knowledge of things that it takes a life time to understand. With time and a few life experiences “IT” becomes the thing you pursue to give your life meaning. Somewhere along the way of having or getting “IT” you ask yourself, ‘Is this “IT”? Panic sets in when you realize that “IT” is your life. Fear and insecurity is that feeling you get when “IT” has not been worth a life time.

Bookshelf

Harvey, David. Justice, Nature, and the Geography of Difference. New York: Longman, 1996.

Fanon, Frantz. Black Skin White Masks. Trans. Charles Lam Markmann. New York: Grove Press. 1967.

Cancian, Francesca M. Gender Politics: Love and Power in the Private and Public Spheres. Gender and the Life Course. Ed. Alice S. Rossi. New York: Aldine, 1985.

Sand, Shlomo. The Invention of the Jewish People. New York: Verso, 2009.

Lay, Shawn. The Invisible Empire In The West: Toward a New Historical Appraisal of the Ku Klux Klan of the 1920's. Chicago: University of Illinois Press, 2004.

Journal

Carothers, Thomas. Think Again: Civil Society. Foreign Policy Date, (Winter: 1999-2000).

Ober, Josiah. The original meaning of "democracy": Capacity to do things, not majority rule. Princeton/Stanford Working Papers in Classics. American Political Science Association meetings, Philadelphia, (2006).