There’s been much progress for the LGBTQ community over the past decade: the legal debate over same-sex marriage has been resolved, popular culture has largely embraced gay and lesbian people, and transgender people are gaining legal recognition. But as LGBTQ people make these strides, other groups have begun to claim that their religious rights are threatened by these cultural and political shifts. Now, these religious groups are asking for protections too. This year alone, dozens of bills have been introduced in state legislatures across the country, aiming to restore or protect the freedom of religion clause of the First Amendment. There have been fights over a bakeries refusing to bake a cakes for same-sex wedding ceremonies, doctors who wish to refuse services to transgender folks because of religious beliefs, and more.
In this episode, we travel to the state of Mississippi, where a bitter fight against a religious freedom bill called HB 1523 is being waged between the state and a group of people who say the bill violates their civil liberties -- even their religious freedom itself. The bill, aimed to protect people of faith from “government discrimination,” defines marriage as a heterosexual union, says that sex belongs only within a marriage between a man and a woman, and calls gender a fixed trait at birth. Mississippi governor Phil Bryant said HB 1523's goals do not include discrimination or harm, but said of its opponents, “If they’re interested in protecting people’s rights and also understand that people of faith have rights.”
One of those opponents is Brandiilynne Mangum-Dear, a lesbian pastor who ministers to an LGBT welcoming church in Hattiesburg, Mississippi. She, her wife, Susan Mangum, and her church, Joshua Generation MCC, have joined in a class action lawsuit against Gov. Bryant and the state. She feels that when most people hear about a piece of legislation claiming to protect religious freedom, they're all for it. The problem is, she adds, most people don't fully understand what it does. “It is discrimination in a pretty little religious box," she says. "We're good at putting things in religious boxes here in the south.”
Pastor Brandiilynne Mangum-Dear(Reniqua Allen)
In many ways, this battle between religious freedom and civil liberties isn't anything new. We'll speak with Rims Barber, a minister and veteran civil rights activist in Jackson, Mississippi, and the lead plaintiff in the lawsuit against HB 1523. He says that the culture wars we're witnessing today mirror those of the Civil Rights Movement. Barber officiated the first interracial marriage in the state of Mississippi, and helped desegregate its schools, all while other citizens said they shouldn't have to comply because of their religious liberties. Then, Dartmouth religion professor Randall Balmer will show us how those fights helped galvanize a powerful political force in America: the religious right. And, we'll hear the origin story of religious freedom bills like HB 1523.
The United States of Anxiety is hosted by Kai Wright and produced by WNYC Studios.
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