In the House, SB 2681, the so-called Religious Freedom Restoration Act or "Turn the Gays Away" bill, took up a good bit of the chamber's time. Throughout the afternoon, Speaker Gunn (R-Clinton) had to recess the House twice in order to have Republican caucus meetings to whip his rank-and-file members into voting for this bill. Given the delays, it seems some Republican members understood the slippery slope upon which this bill could set the state… again. After all, Mississippi has had its share of passing legislation allowing businesses to discriminate against its fellow citizens. Knowing it was dead on arrival without some changes, Rep. Andy Gipson (R-Braxton) amended the bill to provide for a study committee which will give recommendations on a different path forward. This was a decision Gipson did not seemed pleased to make. Additional language that survived changes the state seal to include the phrase "In God We Trust," which was the original purpose of the bill.
Earlier in the afternoon, members of the House received an email from Jimmy Porter of the Christian Action Commission, an entity of the Mississippi Baptist Convention. Please read his email for yourself.
First, when using statistics, it is not wise to use phrases like "Probably 90 to 95% of your constituents support" without showing the data to back it up.Members of the House of Representatives,I read via Twitter this morning that 20 Republican Representatives are allegedly against RFRA.Out of respect for you and your position you need to know these names are slowly emerging. One person has been dubbed the “Bell Cow” of this opposition whose district is one of the most conservative and most religious in our entire state.The fact is that one’s position on this piece of legislation can be made public whether a vote is taken or not. The leadership of the House will take a lot of heat for its failure if that is the case but it will be undeserved. The Christian Action Commission will work diligently to ensure the blame will be laid at the feet of these 20 alleged Republicans. Approximately 60,000 Baptist households will read about it and know the truth. Add to that Pentecostal households, members of the Tea Party, followers of American Family Association, the Liberty Council and the Family Research Council, etc., and you begin to see the widespread interest in this bill.Probably 90 to 95% of your constituents support freedom of speech and freedom of religion. I do believe it would be wise to consider whether or not it is expedient to vote against this bill. Often you must choose between principle and/or preference. This is one of those times. It is understandable that some prefer not to vote but sometime principle demands one take a stand. What is expedient is not always what is right.Most if not all of you belong to some religious organization and have a deep and abiding faith. Faith families are being discriminated against all over the United States, even here. Why should they be denied protection under state law?This is not a Republican or Democrat bill, it is both. Our state passed the Defense of Marriage Act by the widest margin of any state at 86/87%. Democrats, Republicans, African Americans, Caucasians, and Hispanics were all on board. It is the same with this issue outside of these Chambers.So I humbly ask you, whether Democrat or Republican, to please go immediately to the Speaker and voice support for bringing this bill to the floor, debate it and then pass it out. Be assured that when the gavel closes the session today SB 2681 is not over if it is never brought to the House floor. Jesus said to his followers in The Sermon on the Mount, “You are the light of the world.” Please don’t hide it.Sincerely,Jimmy Porter
Second, Porter is not humbly asking anything in his email; he is making threats. If you do not do what he says, he is promising to unleash the fury of his friends in the faith community as well as the Tea Party. His email seems to have fallen on deaf ears. With these threats in mind, Gunn's Republican majority was unable to pass the bill with the harmful provisions in it. Now, it is up to Mr. Porter to make good on his threats against these unnamed 20 Republicans. If Mr. Porter wants to put the Mississippi Baptist Convention's tax exempt status in jeopardy to execute a political campaign, that is a decision he will have to take up with the Internal Revenue Service.
Third, calling into question a representative's faith for not supporting this bill is a pretty low blow. We can agree to disagree on plenty of issues, but raising doubts about a member's "deep and abiding faith" is taking things a step too far.
Fourth, my faith family goes about our business on a daily basis without any fear of persecution. Two of my brothers who are preachers continue their ministries and are doing a great job of expanding their reach. They would not hesitate to let me know if they felt that they or someone in their congregation was being persecuted for their religious beliefs. We live in a pretty solid Republican county, or what I infer Mr. Porter believes is "one of the most conservative and most religious in our entire state." In all of my years living in Rankin County, I have neither witnesses nor heard an example of any type of discrimination against faith families. Have I witnessed bullying against kids believed to be gay? Yes. Have I witnessed bullying against kids for being a Christian? No.
Fifth, Mr. Porter's claim that faith families like mine are being discriminated against is a senseless accusation, and he should be called out for it. He is trying to play the role of the victim while distracting from the fact that he has provided no evidence to back up his claim. What he has done is try to justify discrimination by saying that voters approved a referendum ten years ago so that should be the final word. It seems he is willing to anger and fire up his constituency by suggesting that the legislature is going to ignore the will of the voters, when we know that is not true.
His probable homophobia notwithstanding, it is sad that folks like Mr. Porter waste so much energy while there are many more important needs in our state. His time would be better served providing ministries to Mississippians who go to sleep at night cold, hungry, and hopeless. We should be reminded what the Book of Matthew says about what we should do for "the least of these brothers and sisters of mine."