Mississippi’s Anti-Gay Bill is Our Worst History Repeating Itself


via myarklamiss.com

On Thursday Mississippi Gov. Phil Bryant signed the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, a bill many argue could facilitate discrimination against the LGBT community. “I am proud to sign the Mississippi Religious Freedom Restoration Act today, which will protect the individual religious freedom of Mississippians of all faiths from government interference,” is the quote Gov. Phil Bryant released on his official website.

A line of the Bill that has raised the most eyebrows (you can read the bill yourself here) reads: “Government shall not substantially burden a person’s exercise of religion even if the burden results from a rule of general applicability” Critics of the bill argue this could easily lead to open discrimination to gay people in the name of their religious beliefs without the threat of legal action. Many bills like the one in Mississippi (one was nearly passed in Arizona, but eventually vetoed by Gov. Jan Brewer) were made behind the idea that religious business owners shouldn’t be forced to serve any group of people their religion deems as morally wrong.

Does this sound familiar at all to you?

The America we try to forget…via virginiamemory.com

I’m far from the first person to set this parallel, but I think there are a few elements that need to be explored. Jim Crow laws, one of the chief antagonists of the civil rights era stood on a very similar principle; legislation protecting practices of discrimination. The concept of “separate but equal” was just a front; segregation was mostly about keeping African Americans away from White businesses and people. Now it seems certain radical religious groups want very similar outcomes with LGBT people.

The difference? This is 2014. Contemporary American culture disregards views that were once passed down generations as gospel. We don’t promote discriminatory discourse and our media passes words like “racist” “sexist” or “homophobe” around with the weight of a murder charge. You would imagine that any type of legislation that threatens equality these days would be dead on arrival; but that’s where the true comparison lies.

Though we might try to remember the past of racial segregation differently, it wasn’t about outright racial hatred. Lawmakers fought against federal actions to end segregation with the plea of state’s rights. As a principle of the U.S. Constitution State’s rights were meant to be an important balance in government power, ensuring that the federal government didn’t hold dominance over every state. Segregationists argued that federal laws forcing desegregation were attacking state sovereignty; advocates could promote racial inequality without speaking its name. They could support disparity by promoting liberty.

Enter ‘religious freedom.’ If a law were to be passed that expressly gave freedom to oppress and discriminate gay people, there would be no debate on taking the law down. This is because “discriminate” is a trigger word our ‘forward-thinking society’ could never support. But how can an American citizen stand in the way of religious freedom?

Almost amusingly the second function of the Bill is to place “In God We Trust” over the state’s seal. So what religious ‘freedom’ is actually being served when one religion is being held in State reverence over others? The bill is not about securing religious freedom, but one religion’s freedom. Mississippi’s new seal makes this abundantly clear: The Religious Freedom Act is as much about true religion as Jim Crow laws were about state’s rights.

People are going to rationalize hate any way they can as long as they can keep hating. At one point people felt Black men and women were deemed inferior by God himself. As times changed the reasoning changed, but the outcome was the same; discrimination and oppression. Are we supposed to treat these “new” justifications of hate with fresh eyes? Or should we recognize the ugly history in place and stop it before the cycle can continue onward?

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