Mississippi sets a bad example with law

Published 8:26 am Friday, April 8, 2016

I love living in the South. The weather, the food, the land and the vibrant diversity of cultures and people are endlessly fascinating and it’s no surprise to we attract tons of films and tourists alike.

Then there is the hospitality you hear so much about or — of late, the inhospitality.

Just this week, Mississippi passed a “religious liberty” bill, HB 1523, and North Carolina passed a similar law, leading to serious doubt on our region’s hospitality.

Thankfully, Louisiana hasn’t signed into law anything like Mississippi’s HB 1523, which says the government will allow businesses, government agencies, doctors and/or religious institutions to refuse services to anyone with a “sincerely held religious belief or moral conviction described in Section 3 of this act.”

Those religious beliefs are limited to the beliefs that “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.”

These beliefs are consistent with one religion and, in particular, only a few interpretations of that religion. That’s why many Methodist and Episcopal leaders in Mississippi have spoken out against the bill. It’s also why Mississippi constitutional law professors signed a letter saying that it’s likely the bill violates the First Amendment’s Establishment Clause.

But, constitutional issues aside, there is the larger issue of bigotry.

Briefly, in college, I worked at a rundown roadside grill. I went to school in deep East Texas, and the restaurant’s windows were adorned with Confederate battle flag curtains. I learned pretty quickly that the curtains weren’t picked for their pretty colors.

The one time I can recall an African-American stopping in for dinner, he was served without delay. The owner, a notoriously mean man, given to drinking to excess, was away and no one wanted to see what could happen if he returned to find an African-American in his restaurant. Thankfully, the owner didn’t show, and I quit the job not long after, sickened by the whole experience.

But even had the owner returned, legally he couldn’t have done much. By law, African-Americans can’t be denied service because of the color of their skin and I am proud to live in an age when this is the majority opinion. Most of us don’t need federal or state laws reminding us to be decent people and decent people don’t make others feel like second-class citizens.

So it is with equal parts shame and alarm that I watch the growing number of state laws that allow the indecent few among us to discriminate at will. May Louisiana not follow this small-minded trend.

Jesse Wright is the managing editor of The Daily News. You can call him at 985-732-2565, ext. 301, or email him at jesse.wright@bogalusadailynews.com.