Apr 18, 2014 fbook icon twitter icon rss icon

Mississippi

11Mississippi Sex-Ed Curriculum Falsely Teaches That Homosexual Activity Is Illegal

Mississippi state law requires sexual education teachers to tell students that homosexual activity is illegal under the state's sodomy laws. The problem with this is that sexual education teachers are not required to tell students about a 2003 Supreme Court decision making all state laws criminalizing homosexual activity unenforceable.

As dug up by the New Republic, the Mississippi Sexual Education Curriculum law requires teachers to inform students of “the current state law related to sexual conduct, including forcible rape, statutory rape, paternity establishment, child support, and homosexual activity.”

The decision to require teachers to inform students specifically about state — and not federal — laws is not accidental. While federal law declares state sodomy laws banning homosexual activity unenforceable, it does not require states to wipe the laws from their books. They just can’t enforce them.

Because of this loophole, Mississippi teachers are allowed to tell students that homosexual activity is criminal under state law without being required to tell students that the law is unenforceable. Mississippi is not alone in this deceptive, albeit technically legal, tactic. Alabama also instructs teachers to say that “homosexuality is not a lifestyle acceptable to the general public and that homosexual conduct is a criminal offense." Once again, Alabama educators are not required to mention that federal law voids these laws of any power.

Mississippi also requires teachers to make it clear that heterosexual activity in the context of marriage is the only appropriate form of sexual behavior.

Teachers are explicitly told to say that “a mutually faithful, monogamous relationship in the context of marriage is the only appropriate setting for sexual intercourse.”

So, how effective is Mississippi’s abstinence-until-heterosexual-marriage sexual education curriculum? Not very. The state has the second-highest teenage pregnancy rate in the nation. Well done, guys. 

Sources: New Republic, Live Science

11UFO Caught On Camera In Mississippi Woods?

Mississippi couple Rainer and Edith Shattles revealed surveillance footage of their property recently, suggesting that two lights that appear on camera might be a UFO.

The couple has several infrared cameras on their 150-acre property to watch deer and other animals that roam around the area. One night, two lights that appeared close together and that attracted the attention of deer lit up in the footage.

At 7:24 p.m., a deer appeared in front of one camera. At 7:29, two dim lights like headlights appeared. At 7:35, the two lights got brighter. At 7:53, a strange circular shape appeared on screen. The deer were also lit up. At 7:56, the lights focused in on the deer, then flew away.

The Shattles have insisted that the lights cannot be headlights because there’s no road in the back of their property and because the lights seemed to fly into the sky.

The couple said they have not tired of looking at the footage and have enlisted their friends to figure out what the light could be.

“It adds a little flavor to life,” Mr. Shattle said of the investigation.

Sources: Fox News, ABC News

11Mississippi Sex Education Class Likens Women To Dirty Pieces Of Peppermint Patties

Mississippi has one of the highest rate of teen pregnancy in the United States, with 76 percent of teenagers having sex before they graduate high school, but it wasn’t until this year that sex education became a required part of the high school curriculum.

Marie Barnard, a public health worker and one of the parents who fought to bring sex education into Mississippi classrooms, spoke with the Los Angeles Times. The new curriculum has teachers in Oxford, Miss., asking “students to unwrap a piece of chocolate, pass it around class and observe how dirty it became.”

“They're using the Peppermint Pattie to show that a girl is no longer clean or valuable after she's had sex — that she's been used," Barnard said. "That shouldn't be the lesson we send kids about sex.”

The comparison to dirty objects is nothing new. A school district in Texas instructed teachers last year to compare people who have had sex to dirty tooth brushes and sticks of gum, reports Slate.

“People want to marry a virgin, just like they want a virgin toothbrush or stick of gum,” the guide read.

Kidnapping-victim-turned-advocate Elizabeth Smart came forward last year and argued that the analogy is damaging, saying:

“I remember in school one time, I had a teacher who was talking about abstinence. And she said, ‘Imagine you’re a stick of gum. When you engage in sex, that’s like getting chewed. And if you do that lots of times, you’re going to become an old piece of gum, and who is going to want you after that?’ Well, that’s terrible. No one should ever say that. But for me, I thought, ‘I’m that chewed-up piece of gum.’ Nobody re-chews a piece of gum. You throw it away. And that’s how easy it is to feel you no longer have worth. Your life no longer has value.”

Barnard and other Oxford mothers, whom students refer to as “the sex moms,” continue to advocate for a more useful and less insulting sex education curriculum. They have been lobbying for an “abstinence-plus” education that “[urges] abstinence but also [teaches] about contraception.”

11Mississippi Gov. Phil Bryant Signs Anti-Gay Religious Freedom Law

Mississippi Gov. Phil Bryant (R) signed a religious freedom bill Thursday that allows citizens to sue over anti-discrimination laws they feel they impinge upon their religious beliefs.

The bill, the Mississippi Religious Freedom Restoration Act, will be law on July 1 and adds “In God We Trust” to the state seal.

More than 75 gay rights groups protested the bill. Founder of the Mississippi Gulf Coast Lesbiand and Gay Community Center Jeff White said the law nullifies antidiscrimination laws.

"It's the first time in my life that I've actually considered moving out of Mississippi," said White. "It made me physically ill the past few days, realizing what they're trying to do."

Bryant signed the bill into law within hours of receiving it. It guarantees freedom of religion without government interference. Therefore government cannot put a substantial burden on the practice of religion. For instance, zoning laws can’t limit the location of a church or any place of worship, if secular businesses are not similarly limited.

An early version of the bill was similar to Arizona’s religious freedom bill, which Gov. Jan Brewer (R) vetoed weeks ago. Rather than outright permitting businesses to discriminate against gay customers, the law allows the business to sue for their right to discriminate.

President of the conservative Family Research Council Tony Perks applauded the measure.

“This is a victory for the First Amendment and the right to live and work according to one’s conscience,” Perkins said in a statement. “This commonsense measure was a no-brainer for freedom, and like the federal [Religious Freedom Restoration Act], it simply bars government discrimination against religious exercise. The legislature gave strong approval to a bill that declares that individuals do not have to trade their religious freedom for entrance into public commerce.”

“We remain hopeful that courts throughout the state will reject any attempts to use religion to justify discrimination,” Morgan Miller, communications director of the Mississippi ACLU, said in a statement. “Nobody should be refused service because of who they are.”

Sources: Politico, TIME

11Mississippi Judge Dismisses Murder Charge Against Mother Of Stillborn Baby

A judge in Mississippi has dismissed a murder charge against a woman who gave birth to a stillborn child in 2006. 

Rennie Gibbs was 16 when she delivered her daughter. The child was stillborn, with her umbilical cord wrapped around her neck. Subsequent medical exams discovered traces of cocaine byproduct in the baby’s blood, according to a story on ProPublica. Mississippi state prosecutors then indicted Gibbs for “depraved heart murder,” a second-degree murder charge. Depraved heart murder is defined in the state of Mississippi as an act that demonstrates a “callous disregard for human life.” Prosecutors alleged Gibbs caused the death of the child by using cocaine during the pregnancy.

Lowndes County Circuit Judge Jim Kitchens wasn’t so sure. He threw the case out on Thursday.

Kitchens’ ruling stated that “the law was unclear in Mississippi as to the appropriate charge, if any, to be levied when a pregnant woman allegedly consumed illegal drugs and allegedly caused the death of her unborn child.” 

Kitchens relied on a similar case in Mississippi — Buckhalter v. State — for his ruling. In that case the state’s supreme court dismissed manslaughter charges against a woman who delivered a stillborn child after taking drugs while pregnant.

Gibbs was indicted prior to that case's decision.

"Accordingly, pursuant to the Mississippi Supreme Court's ruling this case for depraved heart murder is dismissed without prejudice,” Kitchens’ ruling read, according to the The Commercial Dispatch, a Mississippi newspaper.

The case shed new light on a growing number of “fetal harm” cases in which mothers are charged with various crimes for behaviors that injure an unborn child. ProPublica detailed many of those cases. In one case, an Iowa woman was arrested and jailed after falling down a flight of stairs. In another case, a woman in Indiana who attempted suicide while pregnant spent a year in jail before murder charges against her were dropped. Women’s rights advocates worry that such cases could lead to more prosecutions of poor women, who suffer a disproportionate number of stillbirths and miscarriages.

“It’s tremendously, tremendously frightening, this case,” said Oleta Fitzgerald of the Children’s Defense Fund, an advocacy and research organization, in Jackson, Miss. “There’s real fear for young women whose babies are dying early who [lack the resources to] defend themselves and their actions.”

Assistant District Attorney Mark Jackson said the state would present the case to the grand jury again later this summer.

Gibbs’ attorney, Carrie Jourdan, said she was “elated” with Kitchens’ decision but was disappointed the state was going to try the case again.

“I'm of course disappointed that the state is considering a manslaughter case against her,” she said.

Sources: Pro Publica, The Commercial Dispatch

 

11New Religious Freedom Bill In Miss. Could Open The Door For Discrimination

The Mississippi legislature passed a religious freedom bill on Tuesday that many believe will open the door to discrimination against gays and lesbians by businesses on the basis of religion. The Washington Post reports that the bill passed the Republican-controlled House and Senate by wide margins. 

The bill struggled through the legislature for months as it missed key deadlines. Lawmakers removed some controversial language to help it along. The slimmed-down version that passed earlier this week is similar to the federal Religious Freedom Restoration Act that was signed into law by President Bill Clinton, according to MSNBC.

Opponents argue that language in the bill is still problematic. The American Civil Liberties Union had pushed to have specific wording placed in the bill that would prevent it from being used to protect discrimination. 

“While this is an improvement upon the language that the legislature previously contemplated, it still falls short,” Eunice Rho of the ACLU told MSNBC. “The language still exposes virtually every branch, office, and agency of the government to litigation, which will require taxpayer funds to defend.”

Similar bills have been proposed in about a dozen states. One, in Arizona, made it through the legislature and landed on Gov. Jan Brewer’s desk, but she vetoed the bill amid a huge national backlash. Opponents argued that the law would allow a baker, for example, to deny services to a gay couple wanting to purchase a wedding cake. Under the law as it was proposed, the baker could cite a religious objection as reason for opposing gay marriage and denying the production of the cake.

Lawmakers in Mississippi believe they can avoid such a backlash by closely following the RFRA. 

Blake Wilson of the Mississippi Economic Council represents businesses in the state and said lawmakers had been receptive to business concerns regarding discrimination.

“We’ve been in plenty of contact with the key folks, and we’ve distributed our position extensively in both houses,” he said. “The legislature understands the need to follow the federal approach, and if they do that we’re fine, we’re not going to have a discrimination problem.”

According to a story on the Huffington Post's website, Gov. Phil Bryant, Republican, has said he will sign the bill into law.

Sources: Washington Post, MSNBC, Huffington Post

11Innocent Mississippi Woman Set To Be Executed On Thursday

A Mississippi woman is slated be executed on Thursday for a murder her son confessed to carrying out.

Michelle Byrom’s conviction dates back to 1999, when a jury found her guilty of murdering her husband, Edward Byrom Sr. Byrom was convicted on grounds that she hired her son’s friend Joey Gillis to kill her husband. Byrom, who was abused by her husband for years, pleaded not guilty to the crime. Her son, Edward Byrom Jr., wrote multiple confession letters in which he explicitly admitted to killing his father, but the jury was forbidden from reading them.

“As I sat on my bed, tears of rage flowing, remembering my childhood my anger kept building and building, and I went to my car, got the 9mm, and walked to his room, peeked in, and he was asleep,” he wrote in one of the letters. “I walked about 2 steps in the door, and screamed, and shut my eyes, when I heard him move, I started firing.”

Byrom Jr. was initially on trial for murdering his father. During the trial, prosecutors made a deal with Byrom in which they would reduce his sentence if he agreed to testify in court that his mother was involved in the murder plot. Byrom agreed to the deal, even though he has since confessed that the narrative he testified to was a lie.

During a questioning, prosecutors warned Michelle Byrom that if she called out her son for lying on the stand, it would “go really badly on [her] son.” She agreed to admit that she knew about the conspiracy and pleaded with prosecutors not to let her son “take the rap.”

After she was placed on trial, Michelle Byrom’s defense council failed to inform the jury about her mental illness, her history of abuse from both her husband and father, or any other mitigating circumstances. Edward Byrom Jr.’s confessional letters were barred from being included as evidence in the case, and Michelle Byrom was convicted of murder.

In a recent Mississippi State Court ruling, which declined in a 5-3 vote to overturn her death sentence, Justice Jess H. Dickinson heavily criticized Byrom’s legal counsel.

“I have attempted to conjure up in my imagination a more egregious case of ineffective assistance of counsel during the sentencing phase of a capital case,” he wrote. “I cannot.”

Former Mississippi Supreme Court Justice Oliver E. Diaz has spoke out against Byrom’s sentence as well. He has been a staunch anti-capital-punishment advocate ever since he discovered he sentenced an innocent man to death in 2008.

“Innocent men can be, and have been, sentenced to die for crimes they did not commit … Just as a cockroach scurrying across a kitchen floor at night invariably proves the presence of thousands unseen, these cases leave little room for doubt that innocent men, at unknown and terrible moments in our history, have gone unexonerated and been sent baselessly to their deaths.

“There’s no way justice was done in this case," Diaz said of Byrom’s sentence. "If an execution is allowed to proceed, we all are complicit in it in Mississippi."

Sources: Think Progress, Newser

11Mississippi To Drug Test Welfare Patients, Kick Them Out After Two Failures

Mississippi’s state Senate passed a bill last week that requires drug testing for some welfare recipients as of July 1.

The measure cleared the House earlier this year and is awaiting Republican Gov. Phil Bryant’s signature.

The bill requires applicants to Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) to fill out a questionnaire designed to assess the likelihood of drug use. If the applicant is found to be a substance abuse risk they will be given a drug test.

A positive test result will require them to attend substance abuse treatment. If they test positive a second time, they will be removed from the TANF program for 90 days. A third positive drug test will suspend their benefits for up to a year.

Mississippi Democrats asked that the same premise be extended to business owners who receive public assistance in the form of tax breaks and corporate incentives.

The idea was hemmed and hawed by the Senate GOP.

Expected to sign the bill into law, Bryant says the measure “will help make a positive difference for families impacted by substance abuse.”

The testing will cost an estimated $36,000 a year, which will be paid for with federal TANF funds, according to ThinkProgress.

About 99 percent of TANF recipients say their cash benefits are worth less now than in 1996. The new testing program could starve those funds further.

“Most of the money spent would be used to treat drug abuse,” argued Sen. Terry Burton, R-Newton. “If we can locate and identify substance abuse in any area, but certainly those receiving Temporary Assistance for Needy Families.”

A similar bill in Florida was struck down after a judge found it unconstitutional, but that law applied to all TANF applicants. Mississippi plans to target only “at-risk” beneficiaries.

Sources: ThinkProgress, MSNBC

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11Mississippi Man Dies Two Weeks After Coming Back to Life

Mississippi man Walter Williams died Thursday, after being pronounced dead and coming back to life only two weeks ago.

“I think he’s gone this time,” Williams’ nephew, Eddie Hester, said.

The 78-year-old was first pronounced dead two weeks ago by Holmes County coroner Dexter Howard on February 26. After completing his paperwork, Howard placed Williams in a body bag and sent him to the funeral home. Once Williams was in the embalming room, his leg began to twitch.

“We noticed his legs beginning to move, like kicking," Howard said. "He also began to do a little breathing."

An ambulance was called and Williams was hooked up to a monitor, which registered a heartbeat. He was taken to Holmes County Hospital and Clinics and released after a few days.

Williams died officially around 4:15 a.m. on Thursday morning.

Hester noted that the past two weeks had been a miracle for him and his family, and that they had enjoyed every minute of it.

Sources: CNN, The Independent

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11Student Suspended After Teachers Mistake Hand Gesture For Gang Sign

A Mississippi high school student has been suspended for making what he claims to be an innocuous gesture with his hands during a school photograph. The student, 15-year-old Dontadrian Bruce, was photographed by his biology teacher at Olive Branch High School in Olive Branch, Miss. while standing in front of his group science project. In the photograph, Bruce holds up his thumb, forefinger and middle finger outwards, making a gesture that the school administration believed to be a gang sign affiliated with the Vice Lords. 

When Bruce was taken to the assistant principal’s office, he was told that he was going to be suspended for displaying gang signs at school. Bruce protested, claiming he was holding up three fingers to represent his number on the football team. 

“I was trying to tell my side, and it was like they didn’t even care,” Bruce said to NBC News.

For the photograph, Bruce received “indefinite suspension with a recommendation of expulsion.” 

Bruce’s stepfather Marcus Guy claimed that Bruce’s suspension stemmed from racial issues in the local community. He explained that a white student in a similar situation would have been treated differently.

“I was born and raised here, graduated from Olive Branch, and I’m telling you: they would have done nothing,” Guy said. 

Bruce echoed his stepfather’s statements. 

“They figured I was a gang member because of my color,” he said. 

According to the school, Bruce was suspended from Olive Branch High School because the school has a no tolerance policy regarding gang activity. There is a high presence of gangs, especially Vice Lords, in the surrounding area.  Two other students were also punished for making the hand gesture, WMCTV reports. 

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