3/16/14

Mississippi, We Do Not Trust Your God

The Great Seal of the State of Mississippi
Mississippi State Seal (Photo credit: chmeredith)
SB 2681, the controversial "Mississippi Religious Freedom Restoration Act," passed the state Senate, was amended by the House, and subsequently passed the House in amended form. In passing the legislation, the House sent the portion that appeared to permit religiously-based discrimination against LGBT individuals to a study committee. According to Deep South Progressive, this happened because Republican leadership was not confident that the bill had enough support to get through the House. It will likely return at some point, but it has not yet been passed.

Preventing the portion of SB 2681 from passing was a major accomplishment, and everyone who contributed to its defeat should be commended. It was encouraging to see Mississippians spreading the word and contacting their elected officials to express opposition to the bill. I'd like to extend special thanks to the Campaign for Southern Equality and Deep South Progressive for their efforts to inform and organize around defeating this legislation.

Unfortunately, something got lost amidst all the controversy around the "license to discriminate" portion of SB 2681. This bill also sought to add "In God We Trust" to Mississippi's state seal, and this portion of the bill passed. For some Mississippi atheists, this addition to the state seal is purely symbolic and has little importance. For others, and I include myself here, this addition and the rationale for it are cause for concern.

At best, this addition to the state seal is inaccurate. The United States is not a Christian nation, and Mississippi is not a Christian state. There are many Mississippians who do not believe in the Judeo-Christian god and worship other gods instead. There are also many Mississippians who do not believe in any gods whatsoever. We do NOT trust your god.

At worst, this addition to the state seal is a form of symbolic bigotry. It divides Mississippi into the sort of people who are desired by our conservative Christian politicians (i.e., those who share their god-belief) and the rest of us. Adding this language to the state seal tells those of us who do not believe in gods that are not "real Mississippians" are are not wanted here. It also tells us that our elected officials, including Gov. Phil Bryant and Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves, are not interested in representing all Mississippians or in protecting the separation of church and state.

As happy as I am that the anti-LGBT discrimination contained in SB 2681 has been prevented from passing so far, I am disappointed that adding "In God We Trust" to our state seal received so little coverage and generated so little controversy. This divisive expression of superstition does not belong on our state seal. And no, it does not belong on U.S. currency or in the U.S. Capitol Visitor Center either.

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