March 12, 2014
African American Clergy, Evangelical Leaders, and Christian Scholars Denounce Mississippi’s Proposed “Religious Freedom Restoration Act” as a Return to “Jim Crow” South
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
March 12, 2014
CONTACT: Casey Schoeneberger, 202-569-4254, email@example.com
With the Mississippi House of Representatives on the verge of passing a bill that would legalize discrimination by commercial businesses throughout the state, over 200 prominent clergy leaders from across the country released a statement denouncing the bill and challenging their fellow Christians who support it to examine their conscience.
The “Religious Freedom Restoration Act,” which would allow businesses to discriminate based on sexual orientation, is closely modeled on the Arizona bill that made national news last month when it was vetoed by Republican Governor Jan Brewer under a storm of controversy.
The signers represent hundreds of congregations and include Mississippi clergy leaders along with some of the most high-profile national evangelical and mainline protestant leaders in the country, including.
Bruce Case, Senior Pastor of Parkway Hills United Methodist Church in Madison, MS; Rev. Austin Hoyle, Associate Professor of Theological Ethics at United Methodist Church in Madison, MS; Rev. Michael McLaughlin, Pastor of First Presbyterian Church in Cleveland, MS; Rev. Richard Cizik, President of the New Evangelical Partnership for the Common Good; Rev. Dr. James C. Perkins, President-elect of the Progressive National Baptist Convention; Noel Castellanos, CEO Christian Community Development Association; Mr. James Winkler, President of the National Council of Churches; Rev. Dr. J. Herbert Nelson, Director of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) Office of Public Witness Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.).
The statement read, in part:
“These misguided efforts eerily echo Jim Crow laws that robbed African Americans of their basic human dignity. Businesses once barred not only blacks, but Jews and Asians from buying homes in certain neighborhoods or eating in restaurants even after Supreme Court rulings overturned segregation laws."
Signers of the statement applauded those lawmakers who are rejecting the discriminatory legislation that would return to Mississippi to an era where religious claims and government policy were used to further Jim Crow laws.
Religious leaders’ stances on this issue will also shape the future of the church. A poll released by the Public Religion Research Institute showed that 55 percent of white evangelical Protestant Milliennials believe religious groups are alienating young adults by being too judgmental about gay and lesbian issues.
Signers of the statement include a wide array of high-profile ministers, theologians and thought leaders from across the religious spectrum. The full list of signers and the full text of the statement are below and can be found here. Signers’ affiliations are listed for identification purposes only.
As evangelicals, mainline Protestants and Catholics we are alarmed by the pending Mississippi bill that would allow virtually anyone, including businesses, to discriminate against customers in the name of religious liberty. We call on Mississippi and all states to abandon legislation that threatens democracy, civil rights and religious freedom itself.
These misguided efforts eerily echo Jim Crow laws that robbed African Americans of their basic human dignity. Businesses once barred not only blacks, but Jews and Asians from buying homes in certain neighborhoods or eating in restaurants even after Supreme Court rulings overturned segregation laws.
We must not allow faith to be used in the service of discrimination.
When we seek to codify legislation that discriminates against any class of people—no matter our diverse theological beliefs about marriage—we tarnish the treasure of religious freedom and the highest ideals of our democracy. Most of all, we are complicit in violating the Golden Rule that unites us as Christians—to love God and our neighbor as we love ourselves.
Rev. Austin Hoyle
United Methodist Church
Associate Professor of Theological Ethics
Rev. Michael McLaughlin
First Presbyterian Church
Pastor Bruce Case
Parkway Hills UMC
Mr. James Winkler
National Council of Churches
Sr. Ann Scholz
Leadership Conference of Women Religious
Associate Director for Social Mission
Silver Spring, Maryland
Rev. Dr. Amy Butler
Calvary Baptist Church
Sr. Christine Dobrowolski
Rev. Jack Haberer
The Presbyterian Outlook
Rev. Richard Cizik
New Evangelical Partnership for the Common Good
Oak Ridge, Tennesse
Rev. Chuck Currie
Sunnyside and University Park Churches
Rev. Kendrick Curry
The Pennsylvania Ave Baptist Church
Dr. David P. Gushee
Distinguished University Professor of Christian Ethics and Director of the Center for Theology and Public Life
Rev. Egon Cohen
Temple University Department of Religion
Rev. James C. Perkins
Progressive National Baptist Convention
Rev. J. Herbert Nelson
Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.)
Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) Office of Public Witness
Rev. Kay Huggins
Saint Mark Presbyterian, North Bethesda
North Bethesda, Maryland
Rev. Michael Livingston
National Public Policy Director, IWJ
Trenton, New Jersey
Rev. Steven Martin
New Evangelical Partnership For The Common Good
Oak Ridge, Tennessee
Rev. Chuck Currie
Sunnyside and University Park Churches
Rev. Jacob Simpson
Salem Evangelical Lutheran Church
Rev. Sung Moy
Pawling, New York
Rev. Dawn Rosignol
Christian Church (Disciples of Christ)
Rev. Doug Hagler
Rev. Deborah Vaughn
Rev. Paul Frazier
Paul D. Frazier
First Presbyterian Church
Rev. Ray McKinnon
University City United Methodist Church
Charlotte, North Carolina
February 12, 2014
Mississippi Legislators are once again playing politics with women’ lives and intruding into women’s private, medical decisions. Presuming that they know better than a woman and her doctor, legislators are considering a new ban on abortions after 20 weeks.
Every pregnancy is different and we cannot know all the circumstances surrounding a personal, medical decision to have an abortion. What we do know, is that women’s health and well-being should be supported and valued.
Two years ago the legislature and Governor Bryant took aim at the state’s only abortion provider and passed a bill requiring that doctors who perform abortions must have admitting privileges at a local hospital. Although they claimed – wrongly - that the bill would protect women’s health, they were clear that their purpose was to end abortion in Mississippi. The Jackson Women’s Health Clinic took the state to court and has been granted permission to operate pending the outcome of the litigation.
Mississippi is not the first state to consider a 20 week abortion ban. South Carolina is considering a ban and the Arkansas Legislature approved a measure banning most abortions at 12 weeks and another banning most abortions at 20 weeks. Gov. Mike Beebe vetoed both bills, saying they were unconstitutional, but lawmakers overturned both vetoes in bipartisan votes. The Arkansas ACLU has filed a lawsuit challenging the 12 week ban. Texas and Arizona have also passed 20 week abortion bans. The Arizona law was struck down by the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, and in January the Supreme Court refuse to hear the case, leaving the Ninth Circuit decision in place.
Mississippi’s bill, HB 1400, trivializes women’s health and well-being by creating a cookie cutter approach to women’s healthcare and ignoring individual circumstances of Mississippi women and families. Imagine a woman who is happily planning for a new addition to her family and develops complications. Instead of being able to make the best decision for herself and her family, HB 1400 would force her to make the decision that legislators in Jackson choose; a decision that does not take her personal circumstances into consideration, a decision that requires her doctor to practice medicine based on politics, not best medical practices.
Women in Mississippi face new challenges to access safe legal abortion every year. We must stand firm; just because legislators don’t like the decision a woman might make, they cannot deny women access to basic constitutionally protected health care and the ability to work with her doctor to make the best decision, based on her own individual circumstances.
Mississippi already has some of the most restrictive laws in the country. It is time for our legislature and Governor to start putting women’s healthcare first and take positive measures to ensure every Mississippian has access to quality healthcare. If they really care about women’s health they should be working to expand Medicaid and implementing comprehensive medically accurate sex education programs in our schools. It is time to stop playing politics with women’s lives.
November 10, 2011
Posted by Alexa Kolbi-Molinas, Reproductive Freedom Project
The people have spoken: Twice in South Dakota; twice in Colorado and now in Mississippi. Red state, blue state — it doesn’t make a difference. The message to government is clear: Women’s lives matter. Respect for women, respect for their decisions about their health and families, respect for their basic rights, matters. So keep out of our bedrooms, our doctors’ offices, and our personal lives and do your @##@$*#& job already.
In case you missed it, the people of Mississippi voted yesterday to reject a so-called “personhood” amendment that would have criminalized all abortions without exception, including treatment for ectopic pregnancy and miscarriage, as well as some of the most common forms of birth control. No one believed they could do it and we owe this landmark victory--and a huge debt of gratitude--to the people of Mississippi who fought tirelessly and against all odds to defeat this extreme and dangerous initiative. Mississippi, reputed to be the most conservative state in the nation, now joins South Dakota (which has twice voted to reject abortion bans) and Colorado (which has twice voted to reject a “personhood” amendment) in saying enough is enough—stop playing politics with women’s lives.
Indeed, while this is a huge win for Mississippi, the effects of their victory will and should be felt nationwide. This past year saw an unprecedented legislative attack on the reproductive rights and health of women and families around the country. We saw bans on insurance coverage for abortion; laws that tried to strip any and all public funding from organizations that provide, or even talk about, abortions; and a law that would require any woman seeking an abortion to visit a crisis pregnancy center to be lectured by anti-abortion activists about why her decision is wrong. If anything, the vote in Mississippi tells us there is a huge disconnect between these politicians and the people they are supposed to represent. Yesterday’s vote should make it crystal clear that the American people do not support this extremist, anti-woman, anti-family agenda. The American people trust women, and it’s about time their elected representatives do so, as well.
November 02, 2011
Republican Gov. Haley Barbour said on Nov. 2 he's concerned about Initiative 26, an extreme measure that could have unintended consequences.
"I believe life begins at conception. Unfortunately, this personhood amendment doesn't say that," Barbour said on MSNBC. "That ambiguity is striking a lot of pro-life people here as concerning."
Barbour also made comments to Fox News and local media. For the full story, read here.
October 14, 2011
Oct. 18 Community Forum and Discussion
American Association of University Women, Cleveland Branch
Delta State University Alumni House in Cleveland, 6 p.m. to 8 p.m.
Oct. 19 Save The Pill Rally!
Oxford Courthouse Lawn, 5 p.m.
Oct. 20 Forum on Initiative 26 and Initiative 27
Sponsored by the Biloxi Branch of the NAACP
Church of the Redeemer in Biloxi, 6 p.m.
Oct. 20 Election Forum
Tougaloo College Pre-Law Society, 6 p.m.
500 West County Line Road
Tougaloo, MS 39174
Oct. 25 Personhood and You: Implications of Initiative #26
Barnard Observatory, 7 p.m.
Student Union Dr. and North Lane, adjacent to the Grove in Oxford
Oct. 25 Amendment 26: Exploring the Implications of MS's Personhood Initiative
Mississippi College School of Law, 6 p.m .
151 E. Griffith St., Jackson
Oct. 31 Ballot Initiatives Town Hall
New Hope Baptist Church in Greenville, 6 p.m.
Nov. 1 Vote No To Amendment 26 Dance In!
Drill Field @ Mississippi State University
Starkville, 7:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m.
Nov. 1 Community Forum on the Legal Consequences of Proposition 26
The University of Mississippi School of Law, Room 1078 at 5 p.m.
Nov. 3 Ballot Initiatives Town Hall
Mound Bayou Community Facilities Building in Mound Bayou, 6 p.m.
For more information about the events, contact Nancy Kohsin-Kintigh, 601 354-3408. None is sponsored by the ACLU of Mississippi.
September 30, 2011
Oct. 13, 2011
A townhall meeting was held at Jackson State University to discuss Initiative 26. More than 150 came out as ACLU of Mississippi Executive Director Nsombi Lambright and others talked about the dangers the proposed constitutional amendment would have on women and families if it is passed on Nov. 8.
The initiative, which attempts to give legal rights to fertilized eggs, would ban some commonly used forms of birth control, in vitro-fertilization and abortion, even in cases of rape and incest. The measure has been publicly opposed by medical associations and other organizations. Lambright explained to the gathering that the initiative would allow government intrusion in decisions that should be made by women and their families.
The implications of the measure are serious. The initiative would force women whose lives are at risk to carry a pregnancy to term or risk criminal charges. The threat of criminal charges also would loom over doctors who must consider whether to perform life-saving treatments on women. Lambright urged participants to educate others about the perils of Initiative 26, and to vote "No" on Election Day.
The event was sponsored by the Jackson State University School of Social Work.
September 30, 2011
By Nancy Kohsin-Kintigh
I have worked to protect the rights of women across the country for nearly 20 years. As an organizer for a national women’s rights organization, I traveled around the country working beside activists to prevent anti-abortion extremists from shutting down abortion clinics with their rhetoric, their bodies, and sometimes their bullets.
I have been outside hundreds of clinics watching extremists spew hate and judgment on women and their families entering these facilities while holding a Bible to justify it. I have seen parents with up to a dozen children ranging from newborn to teens standing in 100-plus degree weather for eight hours holding signs (that most of them couldn’t even read or understand) in an attempt to intimidate or shame women from getting an abortion. I have worked with federal, state, and local law enforcement in an effort just to get existing laws enforced at clinics which are legal businesses and more importantly – healthcare facilities. I have taught doctors, nurses, and receptionists how to protect themselves and their children from harassment in their homes, in their children’s schools, and at the healthcare facilities.
In all these years of working tirelessly with loving caring human beings who risk their lives every day to provide safe, legal, and sometimes medically necessary healthcare to women – nothing would stop the bullet that killed my friend and someone I admired – Dr. George Tiller. He was killed while attending service at his church.
Today, we are seeing a different kind of “bullet” aimed at the heart of women. This past legislative session was frightening for those of us who fight to defend the dignity of women across this country. We are still making 77 cents for every dollar a man makes and we face assaults on our fundamental rights to control our own bodies. We watch legislators in our states and in DC spew vitriol about us in an attempt to legislate our womb and our ability to access services. While the men hold these great debates about us, we are getting breakfast for our kids, heading off to our second job, meeting with our children’s teachers, and caring for our aging parents while trying to scrape up enough money for the rent that is due in a few days.
Mississippi extremists want to take away the right to abortion and birth control by passing the “so called” Personhood Ballot Initiative #26. It is dangerous and is an all out assault on women and their families. If passed, this amendment would not only ban abortion but also birth control and many assisted reproductive healthcare procedures which include in-vitro fertilization. The initiative will insert government control over our wombs, our ability to choose when and how many children we have, and we will be criminally investigated when we have a miscarriage.
I still have nightmares about my friend being murdered. I see the bullet exit the weapon in slow motion and I dream that I put my hand up and stop it. Initiative #26 is a bullet. The bullet is moving slowly through the air in Mississippi. This time, I am putting my whole body up to stop it. Will you?
Don’t allow this initiative to pass. Individuals across the state are banding together and getting out there to educate voters on the broad and sweeping implications of Initiative #26 if passed. Organizations are educating their members and mobilizing to the streets. Even if you oppose abortion, this “bullet” will explode into a million pieces and it WILL hit you too. Get out there and talk to your friends, family, church, and civic organizations. Make a case for stopping the bullet. On November 8, use your hand to stop the bullet and vote NO on Initiative #26. If you sleep in on November 8, you might just wake up to a nightmare.
September 15, 2011
The Mississippi Supreme Court refused Sept. 8 to prevent proposed Initiative Measure Number 26 from being placed on the November 2011 ballot. The initiative attempts to redefine the term “person” in the Mississippi Bill of Rights to apply at the moment of fertilization. The court did not rule on the constitutionality of the initiative, but instead said that it would not rule on any proposed measure before the election.
The initiative was challenged by a Mississippicitizen because it failed to comply with the ballot initiative process as set forth in the Mississippi Constitution, which forbids making modifications to the Bill of Rights.
“We're disappointed with the ruling,” said Nsombi Lambright, executive director of the ACLU of Mississippi. “A measure will be on the ballot that will allow the government to dictate what is a private matter that's best decided by a woman, her family and within the context of her faith.Mississippivoters should reject this intrusive and dangerous measure.”
“This initiative is extreme and could severely undermine women's access to birth control, in vitro fertilization and life-saving medical procedures,” said Bear Atwood, legal director of the ACLU of Mississippi. “This measure is harmful to women and has no place on the ballot.”
“It is unfortunate the court decided it could not review the initiative at this point in time, but the Mississippi Constitution is clear -- you cannot make any changes to the Bill of Rights through the initiative process,” said Alexa Kolbi-Molinas, staff attorney with the ACLU Reproductive Freedom Project.
“As a lifelong Mississippian, I am disappointed that this broad and intrusive measure has been allowed on the ballot,” said Cristen Hemmins, plaintiff in the lawsuit challenging the initiative. “I call on all voters to vote ‘no' on #26. The government should not be interfering with the personal and private health care decisions of Mississippi families.”
October 15, 2009
School must allow lesbian student to wear tuxedo in senior portrait
Sarah Young, ACLU of Mississippi Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Rights Project Coordinator; 315-396-5892 / firstname.lastname@example.org
Kristy Bennett, ACLU of Mississippi Legal Director, 601-540-6642 / email@example.com
Jackson, MS - The ACLU of Mississippi has sent a letter to Copiah County School District demanding school officials immediately cease violating a student's rights. The school has barred the student from wearing a tuxedo in her senior prom picture, despite the fact that boys are allowed to wear them. Such a requirement for gender-specific clothing is a violation of students' rights to gender equality and self expression.
School officials told Ceara Sturgis, an openly gay senior at Wesson Attendance Center in Wesson, MS, that her photo would not appear in the yearbook because in it she is wearing a tuxedo, not the traditional drape worn by other female students. Assistant Superintendent Robert Holloway informed Ceara's mother that there was no policy in the student handbook requiring females to wear drapes. The decision by school officials to require Ceara to wear a drape is arbitrary, discriminatory and unconstitutional.
In its letter to the Copiah County School District, the ACLU-MS reminds district officials that students' right to self expression is protected under the First Amendment of the constitution. Clothing, such as a tuxedo, worn as a statement of lesbian and gay rights, has been upheld by courts to be symbolic speech that is protected by the First Amendment. Schools have an obligation to protect, not extinguish, such speech.
The letter further reminds district officials that the 14th Amendment prohibits public schools from engaging in gender discrimination. Courts have also consistently upheld the First Amendment right of female students to wear tuxedos to senior proms. While school officials may impose a requirement of proper, even formal attire for senior photographs, officials cannot lawfully mandate requirements based on notions that only boys may wear tuxedos and only girls may wear dresses or drapes.
Dfferent treatment based on sex is constitutional only if supported by a significant governmental interest. The ACLU-MS certainly sees no significant governmental interest in barring girls from wearing tuxedos or forcing them to wear dresses/drapes.
The ACLU-MS is demanding the Copiah County School District comply with the law by allowing Ms. Sturgis's photo be included in the student yearbook.
(ACLU demand letter can be found here (PDF): http://www.aclu-ms.org/downloads/wesson.pdf)
September 09, 2009
Jackson, MS – The American Civil Liberties Union and the ACLU of Mississippi today asked a federal court in Mississippi to end government funding of religion in the state’s abstinence-only-until-marriage program. The case was filed in the United States District Court for the Southern District on behalf of a teen and two community members who attended a state-sponsored abstinence summit in May of this year.
“The state of Mississippi cannot sponsor overtly religious events as part of its abstinence-only-until-marriage program,” said Brigitte Amiri, Senior Staff Attorney with the ACLU Reproductive Freedom Project. “This is not the first time the state has crossed the line in its abstinence programming, but we hope it will be the last. Instead of preaching, the state needs to start teaching youth how to make responsible and healthy decisions throughout their lives.”
As part of National Teen Pregnancy Prevention Month, the Mississippi Department of Human Services (MDHS) holds an annual teen abstinence summit each May. After last year’s summit, which included overt religious messages, the ACLU sent a letter to MDHS asking for assurances that future events would remain secular. MDHS did not respond to the ACLU’s letter and failed to address the legal concerns in this year’s event.
The 2009 summit featured religious themes and overtly Christian messages, including a lengthy presentation about the Ten Commandments by Judge John N. Hudson of the Adams County Court in Natchez, MS. Judge Hudson told the audience, “Abstain, God says, from promiscuous sex – thou shall not commit adultery. But why? Is not God being a killjoy? Did He not create this great gift which is so good and wonderful? Why would He tell us not to do it? He’s not. He’s telling us that He created this great and wonderful gift for a special and unique committed relationship that is to last forever.” The program also included several prayers and a performance to gospel songs by the Pilgrim Rest Mime Ministry.
“By using the summit to promote a religious message rather than offer health-related information, the state missed an important opportunity to help teens make healthy and smart decisions when it comes to sexuality,” said Kristy L. Bennett, Staff Attorney with the ACLU of Mississippi. “Study after study shows that abstinence-only-until-marriage approaches are ineffective at preventing teen pregnancy or the spread of sexually transmitted diseases. Given the high rates of teen pregnancy and HIV infection in Mississippi, the failings of this year’s summit are inexcusable.”
In Fiscal Years 2007 and 2008 MDHS received $1,428,753 each year in federal abstinence-only-until-marriage funds.
“Mississippi cannot continue to act like it is above the Constitution and repeatedly sponsor religious events with taxpayer money,” said Daniel Mach, Director of Litigation for the ACLU Program on Freedom of Religion and Belief.
Since 1996, Congress has appropriated more than 1.5 billion dollars for programs that focus solely on promoting abstinence and censoring information that young people need to make healthy and responsible decisions about sexuality. A 2007 congressionally mandated study found that teenagers who had taken abstinence-only courses were just as likely to have sex at the same mean age as other teens. Alternatively, studies show that curricula that stress waiting to have sex while providing information about effective contraceptive use can significantly delay the initiation of sex, reduce the frequency of sex and the number of sexual partners and increase condom or contraceptive use among sexually active teens.
Today’s case is Robinson v. Thompson. Lawyers include Amiri of the ACLU Reproductive Freedom Project; Bennett of the ACLU of Mississippi; and Mach of the ACLU Program on Freedom of Religion and Belief.
Video excerpts from the 2009 Teen Summit can be found at: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/sexual-justice/god-and-abstinence_b_213462.html
The ACLU’s complaint can be found at: http://www.aclu.org/reproductiverights/religion/40962lgl20090909.html