Religious freedom bill fires up edit pages


The first wave of editorials and columns by Mississippi opinion writers since the signing of HB 1523 hit the press over the past several days, and the results ain’t purdy.

The so-called “Religious Freedom” bill not unexpectedly caught the attention of media nationwide and globally. Corporations of Fortune 500 pedigree voiced protest. Celebrities weighed in. Some canceled planned shows in the “Hospitality State.” A who’s who of noted writers and novelists have cried foul.

Associations tasked with marketing the state as friendly place to visit and a nice choice for spending your vacation budget have scrambled to send a message of inclusiveness.

Then, late Monday, there is word some in the legislature will seek a do-over.

And, to be sure, not all the attention has been negative for the state or Gov. Phil Bryant, who signed the bill a few days after it was passed out of the legislature.

But what ink has been spilled over the issue inside the state has been decidedly harsh. Several newspapers, including The Clarion-Ledger and the SunHerald were quick to condemn the legislation as condoning discrimination against the states’s LGBT community. There’s also criticism the bill opens a Pandora’s box of unintended consequences.

Here’s a roundup of what’s being written by Mississippi newspaper media and opinion writers on what’s being touted as a major battle between religious freedom and civil rights in the 21st Century.

WebColumn_Mosby» Ray Mosby, editor and publisher of The Deer Creek Pilot, Rolling Fork – “This bill, this now most unholy law is the state of Mississippi’s codifying discrimination beneath a shroud of religious belief and in the very name of holiness, itself. And if that is not sin a la government, then I don’t know what is.”

» An editorial in the Madison County Journal says the legislature has poked a tiger in the eye with the ill-advised legislation — “Gov. Bryant says the law doesn’t compel anyone to do anything and he’s right. But any yokel should have been able to predict the reaction because the law certainly has the appearance of discrimination against a certain segment, even if it isn’t literally written so.”

» The SunHerald Editorial Board accuses lawmakers of fiddling as Mississippi burns – “It’s too late to save our lawmakers from themselves, but it’s not too late to save Mississippi. We don’t expect them to act, so everyone who opposes this travesty of a law should join us in the chorus of inclusion.

» Rod Guajardo, editor of Tupelo’s Daily Journal writes the bill is damaging Mississippi’s future – “In Mississippi, two leading state business associations and a number of large corporations came out against the bill this week prior to Bryant signing it into law Tuesday. One of those corporations included Toyota, which employs nearly 2,000 in Blue Springs just miles up the road from Tupelo.”

ponder,jace» Jace Ponder, editor and publisher of The Gazebo Gazette, writes in an editorial that the coast delegation in the legislature is breaking form by pushing an increasingly conservative social agenda — “Coast Republicans have traditionally been socially liberal and fiscally conservative. The perfect mix to represent us. Our current Republican leadership seems to have forgotten this.

» Joel McNeece, publisher of The Calhoun County Journal in Bruce writes in a personal blog that Mississippi deserves better – “Many have stated this action by this governor and legislator is a bad solution to a non-existent problem. I couldn’t agree more.”

» Clarion-Ledger Executive Editor Sam R. Hall argues Christianity does not condone discrimination – “This bill, regardless of its intent or what well-meaning citizens believe its intent to be, legalizes discrimination against gay people and transgender people — not to mention people who have extramarital affairs, people who have premarital sex and people who have divorced and remarried.”

» The Commercial Dispatch in Columbus writes in an editorial that Bryant has backed another lost cause – “This is…a loud, embarrassing solution looking for a problem that does not exist. Bryant himself acknowledged this new law does not supersede any federal anti-discrimination laws. By his own admission, the new law achieves absolutely nothing — except, of course, further damage the reputation of our state and its people.”

» Clarion-Ledger Political Editor Geoff Ponder writes the legislature is obsessed with social agendas to the detriment of jobs and education – “Now that they’ve tackled the most important issue facing the state — gay weddings — lawmakers can move on to the more mundane tasks of slashing state budgets and services, underfunding education and crumbling roadways, and wondering why our economy is in the tank when it’s picking up elsewhere.”

Charlie-Mitchell» Syndicated columnist Charlie Mitchell asks how much it costs to do nothing? – “Hypocrisy has never been a popular trait, and this state — deeply dependent on dollars from other American taxpayers — insists again we know better. We are wiser, more prudent and insightful, you know. We honor religion while others don’t.”

» In an editorial, The Sea Coast Echo asks if legislators who voted for HB 1523 truly represent their constituents in Bay St. Louis – “Seems our representatives were more concerned about party politics than of the views of the majority of folks back home. Or maybe they eagerly wanted to pander to the wishes of the governor or those of the Speaker of the House, Philip Gunn, one of the authors of the bill.”

» Kevin Cooper, publisher of The Natchez Democrat answered a call from a gay man who plans to relocate from California to the river city – “He thanked me for my comments against the law, but mostly he was worried and looking for a bit of reassurance. Was Natchez not the gracious, accepting town that he’d grown to love and in which he’d hoped to grow old? As we talked, I felt a sense of deep worry and slight disappointment in his voice.”

» An editorial in The Meridian Star reads the flames of the past are burning still in Mississippi — “The law embraced by the governor and the legislature blatantly says charities, businesses and government employees can discriminate against a fellow Mississippian or visitor to the state based on personal religious beliefs. That covers way more than same-sex marriage. And the consequences will range wide when it comes to attracting businesses, conventions, big-time sporting events and other interstate commerce.”

More to come.