As I watched Spies of Mississippi by Dawn Porter, I am struck by that odd feeling of déjà vu. While the focus of the documentary is the Sovereignty Commission, it plumbs truer to capturing the modus operandi of a powerful segment of Mississippi: when confronted with uncomfortable cultural issues of the day (any day), the Mississippi legislature comes through with legislation that puts us on the wrong side of history.
In 1956 they passed into law the Sovereignty Commission. In 2014, they bring us religious freedom.
I am sure there will be those who say, “whoa, there is no correlation between the blighted past of segregation and the issues of today.” Yet the nationwide trends of today and yesteryear prove otherwise. The hot button issue of the 1950’s was segregation and the civil rights era nationwide. The national issue of today is marriage equality, also known as same sex marriage; but negatively cast by a certain segment of Mississippian as "gay marriage."
Then, as it is now, there are varying degrees of emotion invested in opposing forces. Then it was unthinkable to share books, pools, and classrooms. Those opposed to mixing races were embedded in the State Legislature and used this to tunnel themselves out the wrong side of history. Along the way, their animus created the lasting fog of division and hatred that is so slow to recede.
Now, it is unthinkable for some that a person can choose to love and marry someone of the same sex. Those opposed to this freedom of our citizens are embedded in the State Legislature and are using their power to again tunnel out the wrong side of history. Yet they are more subtle in language, and much more strategic in implementation. As Sunnivie Brydum states on Advocate.com, “the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, doesn't explicitly mention sexual orientation or gender identity, opponents contend that the law allows businesses to deny service to anyone who supposedly contradicts the business owner's sincerely held religious belief — a none-too-subtle effort to legalize discrimination against LGBT people and other minorities under the guise of ‘religious freedom’."
History again will record the outcome. However, why should we, as a state, continue to live the definition of insanity: doing the same thing over and over, expecting a different outcome?
We should not.
Now is the time to use the guide of history and reverse the engrained perceptions and attempt progress of thought. In Spies, noted civil rights leader Lawrence Guyot quotes President Lyndon Johnson in saying “there is America, there is the South, and then there is Mississippi.” At the heart of that statement is the State Legislature passing a law that once again places us, as a state, on the wrong side of history. Their efforts to disguise or cloak this law in “religious freedom” does not hide its meaning. Nor does it release us from our miserable past. Those historical references and the pointed look at the similar histories of Senate Bill 2681 and the Mississippi Sovereignty Commission should provide stark enough images to cause a change in course as a state.
Yet, here we go again.