Mississippi’s history is a colorful one, but a new law signed on April 05, 2016 in the Magnolia State, threatens the rainbow, allowing businesses to discriminate against same sex couples on moral grounds and plunging the state right back into the era of Jim Crow and its devastating human rights violations.
The Way It Was
In many respects, Mississippi was the poster child for black slavery and the accompanying human rights abuses so prevalent in a fledgling America. Formerly part of a vast expanse of Indian lands, Mississippi became the twentieth US state in 1817, and by the 1830’s, it was a powerhouse in the cotton trade. Cotton was king, making the Old South the ninth largest economy in the world, with Mississippi the king of kings, commanding considerable influence among her less affluent peers.
The cotton trade (White Gold) made the Old South. During its heyday, there were more millionaires in Mississippi than anywhere else in the world. Mammoth plantations fed a worldwide frenzy for cotton. And none of this would have been possible without the backbreaking servitude of black slaves under barbaric conditions. In 1861, Mississippi became part of the Secession Movement, breaking away from the Union over disagreements about state’s rights in the republic.
Fast forward several generations, and Mississippi would become known as a hotbed of civil rights conflict and home to the notorious 1955 lynching and mutilation of Emmet Till and the 1964 murder of three civil rights activists that would form the nucleus plot of the Academy Award winning movie Mississippi Burning, starring Gene Hackman and Willem Dafoe, released in 1988.
The Way It Is
Gambling aboard paddle boats amid a sweltering sun. Home to blues pioneering greats such as BB King, Bo Diddley, and Willie Dixon. Residents speaking with a drawl reminiscent of time slowly passing. The Bible Belt, and an equally religious passion for college football. These all describe Mississippi today.
As firmly planted as one foot is in the past, so too is the other foot marching forward. There is an air of sophistication among Mississippi’s simpler way of life that is uniquely placed. Most would be startled to learn that the world’s first heart and lung transplants were performed at the University of Mississippi Medical Center. Or that Jackson, Mississippi is the only North American city to host the International Ballet Competition. Or, that the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Waterways Experiment Station in Vicksburg, Mississippi is the world's largest hydraulic research laboratory.
Despite their advancements in culture, science, and medicine, Mississippi and Mississippians cannot seem to shake its Rebel heritage. Thumbing its nose at international covenants and federal law, Mississippi Governor Phil Bryant signed into law House Bill 1523, or more formally, Protecting Freedom of Conscience from Government Discrimination Act, that paves the way for widespread discrimination and human rights violations against a broad swath of people.
Protecting Freedom of Conscience from Government Discrimination Act
Mississippi House Speaker Philip Gunn claims House Bill 1523 does not enable discrimination, but rather promises that the state government will not punish people who refuse to provide services to people because of a religious opposition to same-sex marriage, extramarital sex or transgender people.
To some, HB1523 protects religious freedoms. For others, it’s just another Jim Crow law painted in the colors of a rainbow.
Governor Bryant took to Twitter in response to the explosive backlash against signing HB1523 tweeting that he did so, "to protect sincerely held religious beliefs and moral convictions ... from discriminatory action by state government."
Mississippi is a state that is already known for its extremely narrow protection of human rights. Mississippi legislation protects only three beliefs or convictions: that marriage is between a man and a woman, that sex is "properly reserved to such a marriage," and that words like "male" and "female" are "objectively determined by anatomy and genetics at birth." This bill appears to constrict any remaining legislated human rights in the state.
Governor Bryant’s full statement regarding the signing of HB1523 is as follows:
A link to the Protecting Freedom of Conscience from Government Discrimination Act in pdf format is listed below.
What It Shall Be
Tyson Foods and Nissan North America, both with major holdings in the state, called on Governor Bryant to veto the bill. He didn’t listen. He also did not heed the pleas from international conglomerates such as Time Warner and The Walt Disney Company.
Mississippi’s ally is North Carolina, who also adopted a new law violating LGBTQ rights recently. The consequence to North Carolina was immediate, when PayPal nixed its planned expansion into North Carolina that would have provided 400 jobs.
It would not be out of line to suggest court challenges to HB1523 and its similar legislation in North Carolina. In commenting on the Mississippi bill, the ACLU said, "It's a sad day for Mississippi".
In brighter human rights news, Georgia's Governor shot down a similar bill in the Peach State.
The Protecting Freedom of Conscience from Government Discrimination Act becomes law in the Magnolia State on July 01, 2016.