JACKSON The Rev. Loye B. Ashton, a religious-studies professor at Tougaloo College, sent a joint letter against SB 2681 this morning from Millsaps and Tougaloo colleges. Following is his email explaining and then text of the letter.
This poorly conceived law has since been amended from its original form to address criticism that it was too much a return to the Jim Crow days of legal discrimination based on race and ethnicity, but now including women, the LGBTQ community, people of other faiths as well as persons of color. However, the amendments are largely cosmetic and the ACLU has spoken out loudly against this legislation. Nevertheless, it passed with its defenders claiming that those who oppose it are “from out of Mississippi or anti-religious.” Nothing could be farther from the truth. To that end, Tougaloo College and Millsaps College, sisters institutions of higher education in the state of Mississippi who have stood together against unjust laws in support of civil rights for more fair and democratic society since 1933, have drafted the attached letter. This letter was initiated by the religious studies faculty at Millsaps and endorsed by the religious studies faculty at Tougaloo. It has also received the support of the administration of both Colleges.*
We thank-you for your reception of this letter and appreciate you using it to inform the citizens of Mississippi and this great nation that religious diversity does not need to discriminate and that true religious freedom does not compromise the rights of others.
The Rev. Loye B. Ashton, Ph.D.
Associate Professor of Religious Studies
April 6, 2014
Tougaloo College and Millsaps College have historically worked together for the human rights of citizens whom the State and others in society have refused to protect and treat as equal. In light of the passage of SB2681, members of the Tougaloo and Millsaps communities now join together again to call for the equal legal and civil protection of the rights of all, including LGBTQ persons.
An Open Letter Regarding Religious Freedom in Mississippi and SB2681 From Concerned Educators and Administrators of Tougaloo and Millsaps Colleges
WHEREAS the original federal Religious Freedom Restoration Act had the laudable purpose of supporting the most free and vibrant exercise of religion by persons of all religious outlooks compatible with the compelling public interest in assuring justice for all Americans; and
WHEREAS interest has been expressed in a Mississippi RFRA not only from the perspective of supporting free exercise of religion by anyone but also from the perspective of supporting discriminatory behavior in the public sphere on grounds of religious conscience; and
WHEREAS the language of the RFRA bill passed this term by the Mississippi House of Representatives and Senate has been adjusted to remove encouragement of discrimination on religious grounds; but
WHEREAS it is still at the present time a reasonable fear that the bill, if it becomes law, may be interpreted by citizens or courts in Mississippi as supporting discrimination on religious grounds, given statements by some state leaders that persons should be denied rights on the basis of their sexual orientation;
WE, educators and administrators of Tougaloo and Millsaps who seek equality for all, concerned as we are to maintain the fairest possible view of religion, urge our fellow citizens to join us in opposing the use of this "religious freedom" bill, or any other legal method, to deny rights to anyone. To do so is unjust in itself and also perverts the RFRA's original purpose of protecting religious diversity in our country. Most importantly, we urge our State lawmakers to show their genuine support for the civil rights of all citizens by passing legislation that explicitly protects LGBTQ persons from discrimination.
In addition, we urge our fellow citizens to learn more about the history and content of the religious views of those in Mississippi and the wider world. In particular, some of Mississippi’s leaders have appealed to Christianity as support for denying rights based on sexual orientation, even though there are many different traditions and values that have been held by Christians throughout the centuries, some of which would unequivocally reject the denial of rights based on sexual orientation. We urge Mississippi’s public servants and citizens to educate themselves about the multi-vocal character of Christianity, and to become part of communities of discourse within which religious diversity—both within and across religious traditions—is examined and protected.
Dr. Beverly Wade Hogan, President, Tougaloo College
Dr. Bettye Parker-Smith, Provost/Executive Vice-President of Academic Affairs, Tougaloo
Dr. Kimberly Gladden Burke, Dean of the Else School of Management, Millsaps College
Dr. Candice Love-Jackson, Assistant Provost, Tougaloo
Kathie Adams, Coordinator of Records and Registration, Millsaps
The Rev. Loye Ashton, Ph.D., Associate Professor of Religious Studies, Director of the Center for International Studies and Global Change, Tougaloo
Diane Baker, Professor of Management, Millsaps George J. Bey III, Ph.D., Professor of Anthropology, Millsaps Dr. Pradip Kumar Biswas, Associate Professor of Physics, Tougaloo James E. Bowley, Ph.D., Professor of Religious Studies, Millsaps James A. Brown, Assistant Professor of History, Tougaloo Katrina R. Byrd, Millsaps Connie Campbell, Ph.D., Professor of Mathematics, Millsaps Dr. S. Nichole Cathey, Assistant Professor of Political Science, Tougaloo Curtis Coats, Ph.D. Assistant Professor of Communication Studies, Millsaps Dr. Walter Davis, Professor of Sociology, Tougaloo Sophie De Haan, Millsaps Dr. Stacy DeZutter, Assistant Professor of Education, Millsaps Ms. Shannon Easter, Administrative Assistant, Office of Enrollment Management, Tougaloo Dr. Emily B. Eaton, Millsaps Ms. Carolyn L. Evans, College Registrar, Tougaloo Harvey Fiser, Associate Professor of Business Law, Millsaps Dr. Amy Forbes, Associate Professor of History, Millsaps Donald P. Fortenberry, Chaplain (Retired), Millsaps
Dr. W. Miranda Freeman, Assistant Professor of English, Tougaloo Dr. Rick Gagne, Assistant Professor of English, Tougaloo Suzanne Glémot, Admission Counselor and Class of 2013, Millsaps Dr. Kristin Brown Golden, Millsaps
Jane Harkins, Professor of Accounting, Millsaps
James B. Harris, Professor of Geology, Millsaps
Dr. Rachel Heard, Associate Professor Music, Millsaps
The Rev. Larry Johnson, D.Min., Associate Professor of Religious Studies, Tougaloo
Mr. Danny Lee Jones, Director of External Relations, Tougaloo
Rabbi Marshal Klaven, Millsaps
Mr. Gary Matthews, Assistant Professor of English, Tougaloo
Dr. Richard P. McGinnis, Dean of the Division of Natural Sciences, Tougaloo
Mr. Levertis Meeks, Assistant Professor of English, Tougaloo
Ms. Orthella Polk Moman, Associate Professor and Director of the Coleman Library and Library Services, Tougaloo
Dr. Elise E. Morse-Gagne, Associate Professor of English, Tougaloo Professor Sandra Murchison, Millsaps Dr. Emlee W. Nicholson, Assistant Professor, Millsaps Rev. Dr. Shelli Poe, Teaching Fellow in Religious Studies, Millsaps Dr. Edward Porter, Visiting Professor of English, Millsaps
H. Lynn Raley, Associate Professor of Music, Millsaps Dr. Bennie H. Reynolds, III, Visiting Assistant Professor of Religious Studies, Millsaps Ms. Dora G. Robertson, Millsaps Dr. Stephen L. Rozman, Professor of Political Science, Tougaloo Dr. Bidisha Sengupta, Assistant Professor of Chemistry, Tougaloo
Dr. Madhu Singh, Professor of Psychology, Tougaloo
Mr. Adam Smith, M.Ed., Instructor of Mathematics, Tougaloo
Elise Smith, Professor Art History, Millsaps
Steven G. Smith, Professor of Philosophy and Religious Studies, Millsaps
Dr. William Storey, Professor of History, Millsaps
Tracy Sullivan, Mathematics Instructor, Millsaps
Larry Terrance, Assistant Professor of Financial Aid, Tougaloo
Dr. Dorothy Terry, Assistant Professor of English, Interim Department Chair, Department of English and Modern Languages, Tougaloo
Dr. Lola Williamson, Associate Professor of Religious Studies, Millsaps
Sophie McNeil Wolf, Marketing Coordinator, Millsaps
*Rev. Ashton wrote after this letter went up to say that he should not have said the Millsaps administration had signed on, because only the Else Business School signed on and not the Millsaps president.
CORRECTION: The above piece originally listed Rev. Ashton as a professor at Millsaps; he is at Tougaloo. We apologize.