Showing posts with label Mississippi. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Mississippi. Show all posts

May 17, 2018

Mississippi Democrat Running For Congress Speaks Out on Being Gay and Proud

This is an article my server caught on gay
 politicians. I found a politician running for office 
and putting it out there like he should, that he
 is gay! 
This article is from  
,  on  the Clarion Ledger
Democrat Congressional candidate Michael Aycox wants to put it out there: Yes, he's gay.
An investigator with the Newton Police Department, Aycox said he's heard whispers of folks questioning his sexuality. It's no secret, he said, but he views his sexuality with the same relevance as his hair color. 
However, he's also aware that he is the first openly gay candidate in a Mississippi congressional race. 
Aycox is one of two Democrats on the ballot in the June primary for Mississippi's 3rd Congressional District seat. Neither he nor Michael T. Evans, a current state representative, is the front-runner for gaining the seat in the Republican-dominated race but, at first glance, they're pretty similar politically.  
In a crowded race — with eight candidates vying for one seat —  distinguishing one candidate from the next on policy can be difficult. The five Republicans largely agree on issues such as gun rights and abortion. 

Aycox and Evans both agree on the importance of supporting members of law enforcement and the military, the need for quality infrastructure and funding education. That's where the similarities end.
Aycox is a supporter of same-sex marriage. He married his husband, Mario, in New York's Central Park in 2013, before same-sex marriage was legal in Mississippi. 
Evans believes marriage is meant to be between a man and a woman.
Aycox, a 30-year-old Navy veteran, and Mano wrre living in Florida at the Naval Station Mayport in Jacksonville.  when Aycox had an interaction with his Mississippi congressman that eventually spurred him to run for office. 
Aycox was diagnosed with thyroid cancer in 2016 and reached out to 3rd District U.S. Rep. Gregg Harper's office for help with his medical treatment. Aycox said he was disappointed with Harper's response time and vowed to one day run against him. Although Harper chose to vacate the seat this term, Aycox said he wants to run for office so he can be a congressman that's "easy to get in touch with."
After a medical discharge in June 2017, the couple moved back to Mississippi and settled in Aycox's hometown of Newton. They have a black lab, Sasha, they rescued from a local humane society and a garden full of tomatoes. 
Mario, who serves in the Florida Air National Guard, is preparing to be deployed, so Aycox has been doing the majority of his stump speeches solo. But, he said, he's encouraged by his husband's support from afar. 
Evans, his Democratic opponent, is a state representative and chicken farmer and has been married 25 years. He and his wife, Heather, "pick up eggs for a living." The two have three poultry houses for Pico Foods. 
Evans' colleagues at the Capitol call him "Big Country," but he said folks back home call him "Worm."
After being elected to his second term, Evans, 42, retired from being a full-time firefighter in 2016 but still serves as a volunteer firefighter. 
As a representative, Evans initially voted in favor of HB 1523, a controversial bill that allowed businesses to deny services to people based on religious beliefs. He voted "nay" on the second vote, after the bill had been amended because he felt the bill was "controversial" and "brought a lot of negative attention to our state."
"I believe that marriage is between a man and a woman but, I'm the type of person, I really don't care what anyone else does with their life, that's just my Christian belief," he said. "What anybody else does that's their own business, really."
Evans is in his second term as a state representative. While he voted for HB 1523 the first time, he's not sure if he would again.
"I think people should have the right to express their religion or their non religion," he said. "I don't know if I'd vote for it again or not. I don't know if anyone has been refused services on that bill. I haven't had anyone tell me that it has. Once we voted on that bill, I have not heard anything else about it, nothing."
Aycox said he doesn't understand how anyone could look at HB 1523 and not see the potential ramifications it could have on LGBTQ Mississippians. He gets emotional when he talks about giving stump speeches and meeting constituents who feel they've been discriminated against because of their sexuality. 
"1583 literally shoved the community into the closet under penalty of law," he said. 
While he told his parents about his sexuality when he was 20 years old and lived openly as a gay man, Aycox said he didn't feel the need to tell people "I'm gay." That changed after a recent event hosted by the Human Rights Campaign. Aycox said he felt encouraged being surrounded by other members of the LGBTQ community and wanted to speak out on their behalf. 
"Until the campaign, I never really 'came out.' I didn't," he said. "This is me. It's not who I am, it doesn't define me, it's just a part of me. It's like having brown hair, it doesn't change who I am...I didn't do this to be the voice of the LGBT community. I did this for change. I did this to make a difference."
With his farming background, Evans said he hopes to have an impact for rural farmers. He has strong feelings, he said, about the recent tariffs proposed by President Trump and is strongly opposed. 
"I think the tariffs are going to hurt our farmers," Evans said. "I don't want to go back to soybeans going back to be $2 a bushel again."
Evans hadn't raised enough money to report campaign finances in April but said he's since raised between $5,000 and $6,000. 
People should vote for him, he said, because he can relate to hard-working Mississippians. 
"I'm strong on health care, education, infrastructure, I've always been a big supporter of the teachers, our law enforcement, I'm strong on all that," he said. "I think people will vote for me because I line up with what the rural Mississippi voters think. I'm just an average Mississippian and I can relate to everybody."
Aycox, who's raised around $2,300 in campaign funds, admittedly has zero political experience. He's betting on that fact appealing to voters to win the June primary. 
"The reason I'm the people's candidate is because we've got lawyers, we've got doctors, we've got all these people who are playing the political ballgame and forgotten where they've come from," he said. "I appeal to the blue collar workers, and the white collar workers. I believe in service before self."
Sarah Fowler at 601-961-7303 or Follow her on Facebook and Twitter.

October 6, 2017

Mississippi Anti Gay Sweeping Law Will Go Into Affect Soon

An anti-LGBTQ law that the Human Rights Campaign described as the “nation’s worst” will go into effect on Friday in Mississippi. 
Peddled as yet another pervasive “religious freedom law,” House Bill 1523 was signed by Gov. Phil Bryant last year. A series of legal battles concluded over the weekend when the Fifth Circuit of Appeals rejected a petition to rehear a lawsuit attempting to block HB 1523 from going into effect. Plaintiffs in that case, the Fifth Circuit of Appeals found, were not directly harmed by HB 1523, therefore it could go into effect.
While LGBTQ rights groups vowed to take take the case to the Supreme Court, no such case been filed. Unless another injunction is issued between now and when it’s scheduled to go into effect, HB 1523 will become law. 
HB 1523’s broad stipulations are, in a word, inhumane. Here’s a brief rundown as summarized by local newspaper the Sun Herald:
An Arizona-based Christian group, Alliance Defending Freedom, helped write the Mississippi law that Republican Gov. Phil Bryant signed in 2016. The law protects three beliefs: that marriage is only between a man and a woman, sex should only take place in such a marriage, and a person’s gender is determined at birth and cannot be altered.
Based on these protected beliefs, Mississippi businesses and citizens can now refuse to serve anyone they believe threatens their religious ideology. 
HB 1523 quite literally specifies what forms of discrimination are legal: religious organizations have the right to fire employees based on their sexual orientation; landlords have the right to evict tenants who are LGBTQ; landlords can reject LGBTQ rental applicants; hospitals can refuse to operate on individuals seeking gender reassignment surgery; basically anything related to marriages are fair game for discrimination; state government employees are free to spew whatever type of anti-LGTBQ sentiments they may have; and adoption agencies can refuse to help LGBTQ people become parents. The list goes on.
Perhaps one of HB 1523's most cruel provisions pertains to trans people. When the law goes into effect on Friday, it establishes “sex-specific standards or policies concerning employee or student dress or grooming” — meaning schools, businesses, and other organizations can force trans people to wear clothes that correspond to their biological sex at birth.
Roberta Kaplan, who presented a case against the Defense of Marriage Act to the Supreme Court and won, has lead the legal fight against HB 1523. Speaking to Mississippi Today on Sunday, she said, “Rest assured that we will do everything humanly possible to continue to fight this harmful law on the merits in order to protect our nation’s constitutional values and the LGBT citizens of Mississippi.”

Eleanor Sheehan

November 16, 2016

If Gay Marriage is Legal, Why Gay Sex is Illegal in *Johnny Come Lately* Mississippi?

A new federal lawsuit could finally put an end to Mississippi’s unconstitutional sodomy law. 
The suit argues that a 2003 Supreme Court ruling, which said that gay sex was constitutionally protected by the 14th amendment, should apply to the state of Mississippi and its prohibition of “unnatural intercourse.” 
“Despite this clear proclamation made more than a decade ago, Mississippi continues to enforce its criminal statute prohibiting sodomy, titled unnatural intercourse, by requiring people convicted of unnatural intercourse to register as sex offenders and follow myriad, onerous prescriptions on their everyday life,” reads the lawsuit filed last month in Jackson.
The sodomy laws itself states: “Every person who shall be convicted of the detestable and abominable crime against nature committed with mankind or with a beast, shall be punished by imprisonment in the penitentiary for a term of not more than ten years.”
In addition to blocking enforcement of the law, the federal suit seeks to remove its plaintiffs from the sex offender registry and expunge all records indicating their past inclusion. 
The suit has named Attorney General Jim Hood as one of its defendants. Hood responded in a statement that he would fight to protect the “constitutionality of [Mississippi’s] sex offender registry.” 
“The Supreme Court unequivocally declared this kind of “sodomy” statute unconstitutional thirteen years ago…[when it ruled that the] mere existence of sodomy statutes is an invitation to subject the LGBT community to discrimination,” said Center for Constitutional Rights Senior Staff Attorney Ghita Schwarz, who filed the suit alongside Jackson-based attorney Rob McDuff. 
“And yet, 13 years later, Mississippi still has an Unnatural Intercourse statute on the books, and still enforces that statute by requiring people with those convictions…to register as sex offenders for 25 years, a devastating consequence that causes enormous financial and social burdens.”
In response to the lawsuit, Special Assistant Attorney General Paul Barnes has asked to dismiss the suit with prejudice, which would prevent it from being brought back up. 
Earlier this year, Mississippi Governor Phil Bryant signed HB 1523 into law, which would allow businesses to discriminate against LGBT folks on the basis of religion. Thankfully, it was eventually struck down

November 3, 2016

Black Church In Mississippi Burnt in the Name of Trump

A black church in Greenville, Mississippi, was set on fire on Tuesday night. Fire fighters arrived to find Hopewell Missionary Baptist Church “heavily engulfed in flames,” Mayor Errick Simmons said in an interview;  the fire took nearly an hour to contain. No one was in the church at the time, and no one was injured. On the side of the church, beneath the blackened windows and roof, the words “Vote Trump” have been spray painted.

The fire is being investigated as a hate crime, Simmons said. Federal authorities, including the FBI and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms and Explosives, are helping local authorities with the investigation, which is part of the standard procedure for church fires. “We’re very cautious in this climate, in this day and time, to make sure we’re very deliberate in investigating matters like this,” Simmons said. This fire was “a direct assault on people’s right to free worship,” he said, and later added during a press conference, “I see this as an attack on the black church and the black community.”
In September, Simmons said, city officials found the word “nigger” painted on a boat front down by Greenville’s levee on the Mississippi River. The 34,000-person city is predominantly black, and while there is “a concerted, intentional effort for racial reconciliation among the races” in Greenville, he said, there have also been “cowardly acts of folks doing something.” In the days leading up to the election, the city will be placing additional patrols around all places of worship.

By and large, Simmons said, he expects the people of Greenville and the surrounding county of Washington will support Hillary Clinton.

Arson is notoriously difficult to prove. Last summer, when a spate of fires took place at black churches in South Carolina, Tennessee, Florida, and elsewhere, investigators looked into whether they were religiously or racially motivated crimes—if the fires were intentionally set at all. Unless someone leaves “you a message in some way that makes it very obvious,” a staffer for the National Fire Protection Association told me at the time, it’s hard to know whether or not a burning was motivated by hate.

In this case, though, someone left a calling card about politics. It’s not yet clear who set the fire, if anyone set it; whether the person who set the fire is the same person who wrote the graffiti; or why, if the fire was intentional, Hopewell M.B. Church was the target. One thing is clear, though: At some point, someone decided to attach the name of Trump to a burned black church.

This act comes with heavy symbolism in the United States. Black churches have long been burned in acts of intimidation and hatred; in the Jim Crow South, members of hate groups would leave flaming crosses on churchyard lawns. The bombing of the 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, Alabama, came at a time of extreme racial division in the United States; it was that crime, which killed four young black girls, that led to the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. “The black church has always been a symbol of the community,” Simmons said during a press conference. When he met congregants in Hopewell M.B. Church on Tuesday night, “I talked to folks who were fearful. I talked to folks who were  intimidated. And quite frankly, [they] were saddened and crying,” he said. “That should not happen in 2016. It happened in the ’50s. It happened in the ’60s. But it should not happen in 2016.”

Less than a week away from Election Day, America is having to contend with violence. Trump supporters, including some white nationalists, are allegedly planning to monitor polls, especially in places with large populations of black voters, and local political parties have already reported incidents of harassment. This month, a local Republican political office in Hillsborough, North Carolina, was firebombed, with the message “Nazi Republicans leave town or else” spray painted on a building nearby.

This is a tense time in American politics. The burning of Hopewell M.B. Church is a sign of how bad things have gotten, and what may be still to come. “What we have to do is come together,” Simmons said. “The only thing that conquers hate is love.”

July 2, 2016

Judge Stops Cold Anti LGBT Law ‘Your right to believe should not be paid by my freedoms’

Image result for religion on my freedoms


Almost at the last minute, a federal judge has declared a controversial Mississippi law unconstitutional.

The law, HB 1523, would have protected religious objections to gay marriage, extramarital sex and transgender identities. The judge says it favors some religious beliefs over others and would codify unequal treatment of LGBT people.

The Rev. Chris Donald, a Methodist chaplain at Millsaps College, joins other human rights advocates Wednesday at the state Capitol's rotunda, calling for the Mississippi Senate to defeat what they believe is a discriminatory anti-LGBT bill. The Senate passed the bill, which is now on the governor’s desk.  
The state's governor has said he looks forward to an appeal, but Mississippi's attorney general has expressed hesitation over appealing the case.

As the Two-Way has previously reported, the "Protecting Freedom of Conscience from Government Discrimination Act" was described by its proponents as a religious freedom bill. But it didn't protect all religious beliefs. Here's Section 2 of the bill:

“The sincerely held religious beliefs or moral convictions protected by this act are the belief or conviction that:

"(a) Marriage is or should be recognized as the union of one man and one woman;
"(b) Sexual relations are properly reserved to such a marriage; and
“(c) Male (man) or female (woman) refer to an individual's immutable biological sex as objectively determined by anatomy and genetics at time of birth."

Under the law, Mississippi residents who used one of those moral convictions to justify behavior — including individuals declining to offer business or medical services; religious organizations firing or disciplining employees; and state employees refusing to license marriages — could not be punished by the state.(Many of these forms of discrimination against gay and trans people are currently legal in Mississippi, and in many other states. For instance, business owners in Mississippi can already refuse to bake a cake for a gay couple without breaking the law.)

U.S. District Judge Carlton Reeves ruled on Monday on one portion of the law, and declared that state employees could not deny marriage licenses based on religious objections.

On Thursday night, Reeves went further and ruled on the law as a whole. He said that instead of protecting religious freedom, it violated the First Amendment by essentially endorsing specific religious beliefs over others. Some of the plaintiffs in the case were religious leaders from denominations that do not object to gay marriage.

He also said the law was poised to cause irreparable harm to LGBT residents of Mississippi.

It is difficult to see the compelling government interest in favoring three enumerated religious beliefs over others.
U.S. District Judge Carlton Reeves

"There are almost endless explanations for how HB 1523 condones discrimination against the LGBT community, but in its simplest terms it denies LGBT citizens equal protection under the law," Reeves wrote.

He also noted that many of the protections offered by the law — the reasons proponents saw it as necessary — were already provided by the First Amendment and Mississippi's own Religious Freedom Restoration Act.

Supporters of the bill had previously said they hoped for an appeals court decision should Reeves rule against them, Mississippi Today reports:

" 'The bill, all it was ever intended to do is protect the religious liberties of everyone in the state,' said State Senator Jenifer Branning (R-Leake), who sponsored the bill, when asked on Tuesday what would happen if it is overturned. 'So I think that's what it does. I'm confident it will be appealed to the [Fifth Circuit]. So we'll see what happens there.' "
On Friday, Gov. Phil Bryant said in a statement that he "look[s] forward to an aggressive appeal."

All it was ever intended to do is protect the religious liberties of everyone in the state ...
State Sen. Jenifer Branning, bill sponsor, to Mississippi Today
State Attorney General Jim Hood, who was named in the lawsuit and tasked with defending the law, spoke to NPR's Morning Edition before the judge's decision was announced. He said that from his perspective, the law "doesn't accomplish anything," because it doesn't grant anyone rights they didn't already have. He also criticized the litigation costs it presents — but said he's doing his job.

"When a law is passed for political reasons, there are impacts of it. My job is to separate my mind from my emotion and make my decisions whether I defend it or not, and I do my duty," he said.

In a statement on Friday, after Bryant announced he was anticipating an appeal, Hood expressed hesitation about an appeal.

"The fact is that the churchgoing public was duped into believing that HB 1523 protected religious freedoms," he said. He said, for instance, that some leaders suggested that without the law, pastors would be forced to marry gay couples, something no court has ever supported.

I will have to think long and hard about spending taxpayer money to appeal the case ...
State Attorney General Jim Hood

"I hate to see politicians continue to prey on people who pray, go to church, follow the law and help their fellow man," Hood wrote. "In consideration of the individual rights of all our citizens, the state's current budget crisis and the cost of appeal, I will have to think long and hard about spending taxpayer money to appeal the case against me."

Susan Hrostowski, one of the plaintiffs in the case, also spoke to Morning Edition after the decision was announced.

"I'm an Episcopal priest, and I'm kind of crazy about the gospel, and I'm crazy about Jesus. And his message was that we should love one another, so I found this bill to be offensive from that perspective," she said. "But then also, as a lesbian — I've been with my wife for 27 years now, and we have a son. And so for both of those reasons, I just fought to make sure that people like me weren't mistreated in the state of Mississippi."

She said she was elated with the decision, and remembered back to a moment during the hearing when the case of Obergefell v. Hodges — the Supreme Court case that legalized gay marriage in all 50 states — came up:

"The judge was asking the state, what were the nonreligious reasons for this bill? And they said, 'Well, Obergefell tipped the tables of justice away from people who are against gay marriage.'
"And Judge Reeves said, 'Well, isn't that like saying Brown v. Board of Education tipped the tables away from segregationists?'
"You know, when you have an oppressed population and they make some gains, that doesn't mean the oppressor has the right to retaliate. ...
"Everyone has the right to their own religious beliefs. But not to the point that practicing those would impinge on my beliefs, and on my freedoms.”

March 27, 2014

Mississippi Wants to Execute a Mentally Ill Woman Today

Michelle Byrom
Michelle Byrom (AP Photo/Mississippi Department of Corrections)
Mississippi could execute a mentally ill woman by lethal injection tomorrow, despite objections from legal experts and advocates saying she did not receive a fair trial, as well evidence, unseen by the jury during trial, that places her guilt in doubt.
Michelle Byrom, 53, was sentenced to death in 2000 for plotting to murder her abusive husband, Edward Sr. Prosecutors said Michelle masterminded a plan with her son, Edward Jr. (henceforth referred to as “Junior”), and his friend, Joey Gillis, to kill Edward Sr. and collect on his life insurance plan. According to this version of events, the one presented to a jury, Gillis fatally shot Edward Sr. as he slept in his bed on June 4, 1999. Edward Jr. found his dead father and called 911. Questioned by police, he copped to taking part of a conspiracy, orchestrated by his mother Michelle, to murder his father.
As several media outlets—including The Atlantic and The Jackson Free Press—have documented, there are serious holes in that story. The problem is jurors never saw key pieces of evidence casting doubt on Michelle’s guilt, including letters penned by her son confessing to the crime. On top of that, Michelle’s attorneys made several errors throughout her trial that had detrimental consequences on her fate.
Here’s a rundown of the most troubling aspects of Michelle’s case:
Michelle’s son Edward Byrom Jr. confessed multiple times to killing his father. The jury did not hear any of these confessions.
On four different occasions, Edward Jr. confessed that he, not Gillis, pulled the trigger on his father. Three of these confessions came by way of jailhouse letters, smuggled to his mother as she sat on death row. In one letter, Edward Jr. writes that he shot Edward Sr. in a fit of rage after his father hurled insults at him:
I sit in my room for a good 1 1/2-2 hours, and dad comes in my room, and goes off on me, calling me bastard, nogood, mistake, and telling me I'm inconciderate [sic] and just care about my self, and he slaps me, then goes back to his room.
As I sat on my bed, tears of rage flowing, remembering my childhood my anger kept building and building, and I went to my car, got the 9mm, and walked to his room, peeked in, and he was asleep. I walked about 2 steps in the door, and screamed, and shut my eyes, when I heard him move, I started firing. When I opened my eyes again, I freaked! I grabbed what casings I saw, and threw them into the bushes, grabbed the gun, and went to town.
Edward Jr. also admitted to killing his father in a statement given to a court-appointed psychologist. Trial judge Thomas Gardner, who sentenced Michelle to death, was made aware of this statement, according to The Jackson Free Press. But Gardner did not disclose the statement to jurors and also did not permit the confessional letters to be entered into evidence.
Edward Byrom Jr. also admitted to fabricating the alleged murder plot.
One of the key pieces of evidence presented at trial was a statement from Edward Jr. to police. In that statement, Edward Jr. laid out a conspiracy to kill his father, supposedly orchestrated by his mother Michelle and executed by his friend Gillis. But in a letter, Edward Jr. says he completely made up that story:
I was so scared, confused, and high, I just started spitting the first thought out, which turned into this big conspiracy thing, for money, which was all BS, that's why I had so many different stories.
This letter was not presented to jurors as evidence.
Michelle Byrom’s attorneys withheld evidence about her history with domestic abuse and mental illness.
Michelle Byrom had a long history of enduring sexual and domestic abuse. Her stepfather sexually abused her as a child and forced her to work as a prostitute. She entered her relationship with Edward Byrom when she was fifteen years old. He was thirty-one. According to court affidavits, Edward Sr. physically abused his wife and forced her to have sex with other men while he videotaped.
Dr. Keith A Caruso, a psychiatrist who evaluated Michelle, linked her history of abuse to a long list of mental disorders that caused self-destructive behavior. Caruso diagnosed her with depression, alcohol dependence, Borderline Personality Disorder and Munchausen syndrome. He wrote in a post-trial affidavit:
If I had been called to testify at the penalty phase of Michelle Byrom's trial, I would have offered the opinion that … she was inclined to harm herself and act in a self-defeating manner, so that she was psychologically unable to leave the abusive relationship with her husband.
Byrom’s attorneys mentioned her history with abuse and mental illness in their opening statement, but never called on Caruso to testify, believing his testimony would be more effective during an appeal.
Michelle Byrom’s attorneys gave her detrimental legal advice.
Michelle’s legal team, trying their first capital murder case, advised her to waive her right to a jury sentencing, erroneously assuming that it could be unconstitutional. That left her fate up to Judge Gardner, who sentenced her to death.  
Michelle appealed to the state Supreme Court in 2006, on grounds that her attorneys were incompetent. The court rejected her appeal five to three. Dissenting Justice Jess Dickinson wrote, “"I have attempted to conjure up in my imagination a more egregious case of ineffective assistance of cousel during the sentencing phase of a capital case," wrote in his dissent. "I cannot.”

Though Mississippi Attorney General Jim Hood requested Michelle’s execution take place tomorrow, the Supreme Court still needs to give its stamp of approval to proceed.
It's unclear whether that will happen. What's clear is Michelle's advocates have laid out a compelling case that her trial was not carried out fairly. On top of that, key evidence suggests she could be innocent. An editorial, published in the the Jackson Free Press last week, made clear what’s at stake: “To execute Michelle Byrom for a crime that she did not commit would be one of the worst miscarriages of justices in modern Mississippi history."

March 9, 2014

Mississippi Has Similar Religious Anti Consumer, Anti Gay bill looking like Arizona’s

Lawmakers in conservative Mississippi find themselves in a tug-of-war over a religious-practices bill that some say is uncomfortably similar to one recently vetoed by Arizona’s Republican governor.

A group that lobbies for the state's influential Southern Baptist Convention is urging lawmakers to pass the Mississippi Religious Freedom Restoration Act.
Others say that Mississippi, with its history of racial oppression, should avoid any law that could lead to discrimination against gay people and other groups.

Similar religious-freedom bills were filed this year in several states, including Oklahoma, South Dakota and Tennessee. A bill was withdrawn in Ohio, and similar measures stalled in Idaho and Kansas. Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer vetoed a bill after critics said it would hurt the state’s image by allowing businesses to discriminate against gay people.

One version of the Mississippi bill passed the Senate and awaits House debate by next week. Trying to assuage fears about discrimination, a House committee removed portions similar to the Arizona measure — provisions that some attorneys said could give cover to private businesses that choose to discriminate. But critics say the Mississippi bill is still vaguely worded and subject to broad interpretation, and should be killed rather than tweaked.

In its current form, it says government cannot put a substantial burden on the practice of religion without a compelling reason. It says a person whose religious practice has been, or is likely to be, substantially burdened may cite that violation in either suing others or as a defense against a lawsuit.

"Why are they trying to enact this?" former state Supreme Court Justice Oliver Diaz asked Friday. "No one's religious beliefs are being trampled upon in Mississippi. My goodness, we have more churches per capita than any state in the nation."
Jimmy Porter is executive director of the Mississippi Baptist Convention's lobbying group, Christian Action Commission. In an email this week, he urged lawmakers to pass the bill, saying a law would allow a person of any faith to cite his or her religious beliefs as a defense in a lawsuit.

"The national media pundits, the ACLU, LGBT lobby, and others have declared this bill as discriminatory and hateful," Porter wrote. "That's not true; the bill is about religious freedom."
Human Rights Campaign, a national gay-rights lobbying group, opposes the bill, as does the American Civil Liberties Union.
Todd Allen, an openly gay ordained minister who serves at a Unitarian-Universalist church in the small Mississippi town of Ellisville, said Friday that the bill seems to clear the way for businesses to use their religious beliefs to refuse service to gays and lesbians. While same-sex marriage is illegal in Mississippi, Allen said he hopes to be able to marry a man someday, and he doesn’t want to be tossed out of a restaurant, for example, for holding hands.

"What the provision is doing is saying the restaurant owner can delegitimize my Christian marriage because of his own interpretation of Christianity," said Allen, vice president of the Jackson area group Parents, Friends and Family of Lesbians and Gays.
Mississippi has long been burdened by poverty, health problems and struggling schools. Some lawmakers are disgusted to be spending time and energy on legislation they see as divisive and pointless.
Rep. Kevin Horan, a Democrat from Grenada, said his biggest concern is attracting businesses to Mississippi. He said he worries that the specter of discrimination could hurt those efforts.
“I haven't had a report of anything that would justify the need for this legislation," Horan said.

Rep. Brian Aldridge is a Republican from Tupelo, hometown of American Family Association, a conservative religious group that opposes same-sex marriage. Aldridge said he’s hearing from constituents who support the bill because "they just want to make sure that they limit themselves against any kind of lawsuit."

When the bill was debated and passed the Mississippi Senate, nothing was said about its similarities to the Arizona legislation. Rather, the debate focused entirely on an amendment to fulfill Republican Gov. Phil Bryant's request to add "In God We Trust" to the state seal.
Matt Steffey, a constitutional law professor at the private Mississippi College School of Law, helped the House committee draft the changes. He said that after the Arizona-like portions were removed, the Mississippi bill is similar to religious protection laws previously enacted by about 18 states. The bill says government could not put a substantial burden on religious practice. Steffey said, for example, that if a state employee wants to use a regularly scheduled daily work break to say prayers, the employee’s manager could not prohibit that practice without a compelling reason.

"I don't see how this amended act serves to facilitate discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation," Steffey said.
In an interview with The Associated Press on Friday, Diaz said the bill is still open to broad interpretation. The former Supreme Court justice said that even if the amended version becomes law, it would allow people to cite religious beliefs to deny services to gay people or others with whom they disagree. He compared people’s arguments for the religious restoration bill to Jim Crow-era arguments that used religion to justify discrimination and racial separation.

"I think that this bill goes too far in that it gives individuals and the government an opportunity to allow their religious beliefs to impact the general public," Diaz said. "It's like the old analogy: Your right to throw a punch ends where my nose begins."
Online: Senate Bill 2681:

October 4, 2013

Ignorant, Homophobic Miss Students Heckle The Laramie Project With Slurs


Play's director says 'it’s ironic' that production tackles hate against gays
Several Ole Miss students, including some of the university’s football players, heckled a production of “The Laramie Project,” targeting the cast with anti-gay slurs Oct 1, The Daily Mississippian reports.
A theatre faculty member who directed the play, based on the 1998 murder of gay University of Wyoming student Matthew Shepard, told the Mississippian that audience members used the word "fag," taunted the cast about their body type and sexual orientation, called out to the female actors, and were talking on and taking photos with cell phones. 
Cast members said the taunting created such a disturbance that they had a hard time getting through the performance.
The football players, through one team member, apologized after the athletics department called on them to do so, but theatre department chair Rene Pulliam is quoted as saying that  it wasn't clear that the players "truly understood what they were apologizing for." The play's director Rory Ledbetter echoed Pulliam's observation.
"The unfortunate part of all of this is that I don’t think that the audience members that caused these problems really understood what they were doing,” he said in the report. “Further education on all of this needs to be brought to light.”
Ledbetter also pointed out the irony that the heckling and anti-gay remarks occurred during a production that highlights "these topics of hate against homosexuals.”

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The Food Delivery/Ride Companies Wont Allow Drivers to be Employees But California is Changing That

                               Hamilton Nolan Senior Writer. After a monumental...