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Mississippi Officials Need a Civics Lesson on Constitution Day

Brigitte Amiri,
Deputy Director,
ACLU Reproductive Freedom Project
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September 16, 2009

In my recent blog post about the ACLU’s lawsuit against the State of Mississippi for promoting religion in a state-sponsored and state-funded event, I pondered whether Mississippi thinks the Constitution doesn’t apply to them. Apparently, Lt. Gov. Phil Bryant doesn’t think it does.

Early this week, the lieutenant governor commented on the ACLU’s case, saying:

I was so disappointed that the ACLU has decided that we don’t need to tell young women in the state of Mississippi about our faith; we don’t need to explain to them that abstinence, we believe, is related to our faithful Christianity beliefs.

If you are like me and cannot believe that a state official would basically admit to violating the Constitution, you can see for yourself by watching the lieutenant governor utter those words in an interview.

There are so many things wrong with his sentence, I don’t even know where to start. First, the lieutenant governor’s remarks show no respect for the First Amendment, which prohibits the government from supporting one religion or another. Mississippi clearly crossed the line when it featured Christian prayers, sermons, and performances in its 2009 abstinence-only summit.

Second, it is revealing that the lieutenant governor believes that we need to tell “young women” that they should remain abstinent until marriage. This is the age-old — and sexist — double standard that dictates that women and girls must be the gatekeepers of sex, and are solely responsible for the consequences. Instead of reinforcing these outdated gender stereotypes, we should be providing all teens with the tools they need to make healthy and responsible decisions.

Tomorrow, September 17, is Constitution Day — perhaps the lieutenant governor and other state officials should take a moment and study the First Amendment, so in the future they can ensure that they don’t promote government-sponsored, taxpayer-funded religious activities, and reinforce outmoded gender stereotypes in the process.

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