Southern Baptists, American Family Association Not Supporting Mississippi Ballot Initiative Promoting Christian and Confederate Heritage

Confederate flag
The U.S. flag shares space with that of the Confederates at the Old Courthouse Museum in Vicksburg, Mississippi, September 7, 2005. |

The largest religious body in the state of Mississippi and the American Family Association are not supporting a controversial ballot initiative that promotes government support for Confederate heritage and Christianity.

The Mississippi Baptist Convention, which has an estimated 663,000 members belonging to approximately 2,100 Southern Baptist congregations statewide, has not endorsed the Magnolia State Heritage Campaign's recently launched ballot initiative.

William Perkins, spokesman for the Mississippi Baptist Convention Board and editor of The Baptist Record, told The Christian Post that his organization "has not been consulted and has no opinion on Initiative 46."

"Some of the items in the initiative may have merit, but we have not conducted an in-depth study and currently have no plans to do so," said Perkins. "It appears many of the items promulgated in the initiative are not issues in which the convention board would become involved."

Perkins also told CP that he doubted the success of the ballot initiative, since the "design of the initiative process in Mississippi makes it extremely difficult to succeed in placing an issue — any issue — on a statewide ballot."

"If the initiative should pass, there would be the inevitable court battles. It goes without saying that the supporters of Initiative 46 have a lot of hard work in front of them," said Perkins.

Recently the pro-Confederate organization Magnolia State Heritage Campaign launched a ballot initiative titled Initiative 46.

According to its provisions, if passed Initiative 46 would amend the state constitution to "restrict or define" various parts of Mississippi's "heritage, religion, official language, symbols, universities, and state boundaries."

Also called the "Heritage Initiative," Initiative 46 has 12 provisions, including a call for Mississippi to be classified as "a principally Christian and quintessentially Southern state," English as the official language, designating April as "Confederate Heritage Month," and prominently displaying the Confederate Battle Flag on the state capitol grounds.

"Implementation of the Heritage Initiative would not require a net increase in government expenditures beyond an estimated maximum of $250,000 per year (less than 0.005 percent of the state's current fiscal year budget)," reads the "Revenue Statement" for Initiative 46.

"Most of the Heritage Initiative's provisions would not require any additional government expenditures or allocations of revenue; for the provisions that involve revenue, the state legislature may reasonably apply the least costly means to carry out the provisions of this initiative."

Arthur Randallson, spokesman of the Magnolia State Heritage Campaign, told the online publication one News Now about the pro-Confederate and pro-Christianity initiative.

"We have taken a little bit of time to prepare an initiative that covers promoting Christianity, which is recognized as the principal religion of Mississippi from the founding of the state in 1817 to the present," said Randallson.

"In honor of the Mississippians who served in uniform for the state of Mississippi, we would also place a Confederate battle flag on display at the State Capitol grounds in Jackson, Mississippi, similar to what South Carolina has to honor the South Carolinians who fought for their state."

News of the "Heritage Initiative" quickly made the rounds online, as assorted progressive organizations expressed their concern.

The Washington, D.C.-based Americans United for Separation of Church and State took especial issue with the opening provision all but establishing Christianity as the state religion.

Rob Boston of Americans United wrote an entry on the group's "Wall of Separation" blog denouncing the "Heritage Initiative."

"… [T]here is no way to proclaim, even in a quasi-official manner, an official state religion without running afoul of the U.S. Constitution," wrote Boston.

"I know there are a lot of folks in Mississippi who appreciate the separation of church and state and who realize why proposals like this are bad for the state. I urge them to speak out."

The Mississippi chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union released a statement denouncing the "Heritage Initiative" as possibly discriminatory against "different religious beliefs as well as racial and ethnic minorities."

"In order for this initiative to make it on the ballot for the General Election in November 2016, the Magnolia Heritage State Heritage Campaign must collect over 100,000 signatures by October 2015 and we cannot let that happen," stated the ACLU of Mississippi.

"If we allow discrimination in one situation, it will be allowed in other situations where it may cause serious harm."

In addition to the Mississippi Baptist Convention not endorsing the "Heritage Initiative," at least one conservative organization based in the Southern state has questioned its value.

Bryan Fischer, director of issue analysis for the American Family Association, told CP that he questioned the need for Initiative 46.

"I'm not clear who is behind this initiative or exactly what problems they're trying to solve," said Fischer of the AFA.

"I will be surprised if the organizers are able to get the number of signatures they need since most Mississippians aren't going to see the need for it. Mississippians like the state just fine as it is."

Fischer added that many "of the provisions in the initiative would be more appropriately handled at the state legislative level if they are to be handled at all."

"Constitutional remedies should be reserved for issues of primary importance. The issue of school mascots, for instance, doesn't rise to that level," said Fischer.

"Our main concern here at AFA is for religious liberty to be preserved in Mississippi, and we believe that our state constitution and the recently passed religious freedom restoration act provide adequate protection for religious freedom here in the Magnolia State."

The "Heritage Initiative" is not without its supporters. According to the Magnolia State Heritage Campaign's website, endorsers of Initiative 46 include former Miss America Susan Akin and state representative Mark DuVall.

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