A group in Mississippi is collecting signatures for a ballot initiative to change the state constitution in several ways.
The proposal put forth by the Magnolia State Heritage Campaign is pretty wide-ranging and is being pitched as a way to protect “Southern” (read: pro-Confederate) culture. It contains 12 subsections.
I suspect there is a lot in Initiative 46 that would offend people, but the part that is relevant to Americans United is this: “The State of Mississippi hereby acknowledges the fact of her identity as a principally Christian and quintessentially Southern state, in terms of the majority of her population, character, culture, history, and heritage, from 1817 to the present; accordingly, the Holy Bible is acknowledged as a foremost source of her founding principles, inspiration, and virtues; and, accordingly, prayer is acknowledged as a respected, meaningful, and valuable custom of her citizens. The acknowledgments hereby secured shall not be construed to transgress either the national or the state Constitution’s Bill of Rights.”
OK, where to begin? For starters, this is a huge slap in the face to anyone living in Mississippi who is not Christian. The clear implication is that Christians who love the “Holy Bible” are the real, bona fide residents of the state. Everyone else is just some kind of lesser, second-class citizen who will be tolerated – maybe.
Secondly, this is the sort of embarrassing thing that keeps a poor state like Mississippi mired in the 19th century and does nothing to address the real issues facing the state. Really, folks, the country is changing. There is a lot of religious diversity out there. Many of us consider this a good thing and celebrate the fact that our Constitution established a framework for freedom of conscience that has sparked an amazing array of religions and philosophies. All of this talk about your Christian heritage, culture and traditions is just more pining for the bad old days when governments enforced theology. It’s kind of pathetic.
Finally, there is no way to proclaim – even in a quasi-official manner – an official state religion without running afoul of the U.S. Constitution. If the people of Mississippi are foolish enough to pass this monstrosity, there’s little doubt it would be immediately challenged in court. And the state will lose.
Mississippi Secretary of State Delbert Hosemann has given the group the green light to proceed. To get the measure on the November 2016 ballot, backers will have to collect at least 125,000 signatures.
It looks like they have some work to do to shore up support. The organization’s “Business Brigade” consists of one medical doctor, a consulting company and a firm that sells t-shirts and bird baths.
The list of endorsers also leaves a bit to be desired. It consists of Susan Akin, who was Miss America in 1986; former state representative Mark DuVall and Julie Hawkins, described as a novelist, blogger, singer and songwriter. (Her books are self-published; one of them won an award from a group that idolizes Confederate leaders.)
I tried to cut these people some slack, but you don’t have to spend much time researching them to realize that they are a bunch of crackpots. Their Facebook page contains a graphic attacking “Dishonest Abe” Lincoln and asserting that President Barack Obama is a Muslim; it links to several conspiracy-themed “birther” websites.
These people have no credibility, and they should be kept far away from the constitution of any state. Their cause is truly lost. If they had any sense, they’d go back to drooling over “Birth of a Nation” and save the state a lot of heartache.
I know there are a lot of folks in Mississippi who appreciate the separation of church and state and who realize why proposals like this are bad for the state. I urge them to speak out. They need to help their fellow residents understand that it’s time to stop pining for a culture that promotes Christian supremacism and church-state union.
Those are bad things. The country should move away from them. That includes Mississippi.