There have been a rash of so-called “religious liberty” laws passed in mostly Southern Republican-led states that many Americans think are harmless because they think they only target “the gay.” However, none of the over-a-dozen Republican state legislatures ever mention or allude to the word “gay” in the text of the “license to discriminate laws,” by specific design. Those theocratic religious freedom laws are created solely to allow “the religious” free rein to target anyone they believe is not living up to their standards.
Apparently, in super-religious Mississippi, living up to their standards means marrying who the religious folks “allow” and it had better not be marrying someone of a different racial makeup. A young couple in Tupelo Mississippi discovered the hard way that the good evangelicals in town embrace Christian standards that will not allow interracial couples to enjoy their Constitutional freedoms.
The young woman, Erica Flores Dunahoo, an Hispanic-Native American, explained that as a means of saving money and “getting their life back on track,” she and her husband moved into an RV Park in Tupelo this past February. According to Ms. Dunahoo, the landlord, Gene Baker, “Was real nice. He invited me to his church and he gave me a hug. I even bragged about him to my family.” Mrs. Dunahoo said that her and her husband paid $275 in rent for the month.
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However, the “really nice Christian man” called Dunahoo the next day after receiving the rent with some pressing news: he was evicting them for being married while interracial. See, in Mississippi, the nation’s most “Christian” state, those good Christian folk will not tolerate interracial marriage in or around their presence. Never mind taking the time to look at a calendar; it really is 2016 and the American South is still as devoutly racist as it is devoutly religious.
When the landlord phoned Mrs. Dunahoo to tell her and her husband to “get out,” he had no problem giving her his, his Christian church’s, and the community’s reason why they had to go. Baker said,
“Hey, you didn’t tell me you was married to no (sic) black man. It’s a big problem with the members of my church, my community and my family. They don’t allow that black and white shacking.”
Mrs. Dunahoo responded that she was not “shacking” with her “husband” because they are legally married. Still, the landlord was unmoved and insisted that he, his church, his neighbors and his family consider that any interracial couple, legally married or not, ”is still black and white shacking;” something those good Mississippi Christian folk “don’t allow.”
And forget the Constitution; adding to their current ‘religious freedom’ to discriminate laws, Mississippi just passed a very harsh “Protecting Freedom of Conscience from Government Discrimination Act;” it completely nullifies the Constitution’s Fourteenth Amendment and equal rights protections. It is telling that the good evangelical Republicans in Mississippi had the audacity to name a law protecting discrimination as protection from “government discrimination.” Government discrimination is what normal people consider protecting and upholding the United States Constitution’s equal rights guarantee.
The landlord did refund the couple’s rent money and told Mrs. Dunahoo that “If you would had (sic) come across like you were with a black man, we wouldn’t have this problem right now. You just don’t talk like you would be with no (sic) black man.”
Mrs. Dunahoo was rightly offended and argued that “My husband ain’t no thug. He’s a good man. My husband has served his country for 13 years. He’s a sergeant in the National Guard.”
Serving his country for 13 years or not, the landlord had no qualms admitting to the Clarion-Ledger that he evicted the interracial couple “simply because they were interracial.” He also said that he was getting pressured from all directions and justified his decision to the paper by claiming that “the neighbors were giving me such a problem;” even though the couple had been there less than one day.
After Mrs. Dunahoo contacted officials with the Mississippi NAACP, they began an investigation. The NAACP President, Derrick Johnson, pointed out that “Racial discrimination should be a thing of the past in Mississippi, considering our long history,” but the landlord said his actions had absolutely nothing to do with racial discrimination.
Gene Baker said he had no problems with interracial couples, and that his evangelical church “actually allowed mixed couples to attend services.” However, even though they had permission to attend church, “they would never be allowed to become members.” Because like renting an RV space in Mississippi, “interracial couples are a big problem with the members of the church.”
Baker was asked if he would ever be willing to rent to another interracial couple. He said “No, I’m closing it down, and that solves the problem.” It is more likely that Baker is making sure he will never face any future legal repercussions for blatantly using race as a reason to discriminate, but the damage is already done and it seems reasonable to assume he will face a lawsuit; at least he should.
As the NAACP President said, “racial discrimination should be a thing of the past in Mississippi;” especially considering its long religious racist history, the Civil War, Civil Rights Movement, and desegregation. But Mississippi is no different than the rest of the former Confederacy or the nation, for that matter; just consider the large numbers flocking to support racist Republicans up and down the ballot across the country. This is more than a Mississippi problem and no; it is not down to anything President Barack Obama has said or done. America has always been inherently racist and the President’s election victories served as a catalyst for deep-seated underlying racism to become popular under the guise of “opposing Obama.”
It is noteworthy that for the past four years pundits, legal experts, and political observers have warned that these ‘religious freedom and conscience laws’ were devised to allow any person to discriminate against anyone for any reason. As an aside, Mississippi already had a fairly comprehensive religious “freedom to discriminate” law on the books, but it did not specifically target “same-sex couples” so religious Republicans passed a new bill targeting the LGBT community in particular.
Although there is no cure for racial animus, there is a cure to stop discrimination against non-white people; it is called the U.S. Constitution. Sadly, in over a dozen religious Republican states, that Constitution is irrelevant if it violates “the religious” folks deeply-held beliefs.
In at least one Tupelo Mississippi community, one of the deeply-held beliefs is that interracial marriage is a big problem with the members of a church, a community and white families “that don’t allow that black and white shacking;” even if the “black and white” are legally married.
Audio engineer and instructor for SAE. Writes op/ed commentary supporting Secular Humanist causes, and exposing suppression of women, the poor, and minorities. An advocate for freedom of religion and particularly, freedom of NO religion.
Born in the South, raised in the Mid-West and California for a well-rounded view of America; it doesn’t look good.
Former minister, lifelong musician, Mahayana Zen-Buddhist.
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