April 3, 2016

Mississippi: Christians with a License to Kill and Discriminate

Mississippi State Capitol

What the hell is going on in the state of Mississippi? In February, our Republican governor and Republican-controlled state legislature decided that the best way to respond to several months of concerns raised by private citizens, members of the business community, and even some of our conservative Republicans politicians over our state flag was to announce that the flag would not be changing and then to double-down and declare April Confederate Heritage Month. It is almost as if they are daring the civilized world to boycott our state.

Next, our Republican-controlled legislature passed House Bill 786, the "Mississippi Church Protection Act," in order to permit churches to designate members to complete firearms training, carry concealed guns in church, and make it more difficult to prosecute anyone who kills someone while acting as a member of "a church or place of worship security team." And you thought a license to kill was reserved for James Bond! Evidently, it will soon extend to Christians in the state of Mississippi.

You have probably heard of this particular bill, as it is the one the Secular Coalition for America recently named the "Worst State Bill" after it received the most votes in their Bad Bill Madness bracket. Given the fierce competition from state legislatures determined to discard church-state separation, that's really saying something. Needless to say, this legislation has been receiving quite a bit of attention in the atheist blogosphere and is widely expected to be signed into law by our Republican governor.

And now our Republican-controlled legislature has passed House Bill 1523, the "Freedom of Conscience from Governmental Discrimination bill," a piece of legislation that seems designed to legalize discrimination against LGBT couples as long as it is based on "sincerely held religious belief." It has been characterized as the "worst religious freedom bill to date" and is almost certain to be signed by our Republican governor. Although the legislation is probably unconstitutional, it is likely to be quite costly for the state to defend.

So what is going on? First, we have a Republican governor and both houses of our state legislature enjoy Republican super-majorities. What that means is that the Republicans in charge can do pretty much whatever they want with no real moderating influence of another party. But of course, some what they are doing seems extreme even to Republicans living in other parts of the country, so this probably isn't the entire answer. The second factor worth noting is that the overwhelming majority of the Republicans in office here are evangelical fundamentalist Christians who campaigned, at least in part, on the fact that they were evangelical fundamentalist Christians. I would not characterize every single one of them as Christian extremists, but I'd guess that would be a fair description of the majority. Thus, what you have today in Mississippi seems to be a striking example of what happens when evangelical fundamentalist Christian Republicans are handed complete control of the government.

Update #1: On April 4, 2016, HB 1523 was signed into law by Gov. Phil Bryant, allowing both private and public businesses to refuse service to LGBT couples. It is noteworthy that Gov. Bryant signed this bill despite protests from both private citizens and business leaders.

Update #2: On April 15, 2016, Gov. Bryant signed HB 786 into law, allowing churches to designate individuals who can carry guns in church and making it more difficult for the state to screen individuals purchasing guns for a history of violent crime.
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