Archives for category: Mississippi

After a federal judge told a transgender girl that she had to dress as a boy for her graduation ceremony, the senior skipped the event.

L.B., as she was known in court, had been dressing as a girl for the four years of high school. The school told her she would not be allowed to participate unless she dressed as a boy. The ACLU of Mississippi went to court on her behalf. Her request was rejected by the judge, a Trump appointee.

School officials in a Mississippi high school told a graduating senior that she must wear boys’ clothing at her high school graduation; if she didn’t, she would not be permitted to participate in the ceremony. The girl is transgender and has worn girls’ clothing for the four years of high school. The mother sued with the legal help of the Mississippi ACLU. The Trump-appointed federal judge ordered the trans girl to wear boys’ clothing.

The Mississippi Free Press reported:

A federal judge ruled late Friday evening that the Harrison County School District can prohibit a 17-year-old transgender girl from attending her graduation Saturday unless she dresses in attire designated for boys, the Sun Herald’s Margaret Baker reported.

U.S. District Court Judge Taylor McNeel issued the ruling after hours of testimony from the Harrison Central High School senior and school district officials. Former President Donald Trump appointed the conservative judge to the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Mississippi in 2020.

“The court’s decision to uphold the school district’s explicit discrimination of our client is deeply disappointing and concerning,” the ACLU of Mississippi responded in a Twitter thread this morning. “Our client should be focused on celebrating this life milestone alongside her friends and loved ones. Instead, this ruling casts shame and humiliation on a day that should be focused on joy and pride. All Mississippi students should have the right and autonomy to be who they are—not who judges and school officials think they should be…”

“On May 9, 2023—less than two weeks before graduation day, Defendants informed Plaintiff L.B. that she could not attend or participate in her high school graduation ceremony while wearing a dress and heeled shoes,” says a complaint the American Civil Liberties Union of Mississippi filed in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Mississippi on Thursday.

“Defendants based this instruction on the HCHS gender-based dress code policy for graduation, which provides that girls must wear a white dress and dress shoes and that boys must wear a white button-down shirt, black dress pants, black dress shoes, and a tie or bowtie,” the complaint continues.

“Defendants instructed that L.B. must dress in accordance with her sex assigned at birth—in other words, that L.B. must dress in accordance with the stereotypical male standards, even though she entered high school as a girl and has lived every aspect of her high school career as a girl.

L.B. would be humiliated in the company of her classmates if compelled to dress as a boy after living as a girl for four years. Why should it matter to school officials if she chooses to dress as a girl and her parent(s) permits it. Does her mother have no parental rights?

Donna Ladd, a native Mississippian, founded the Mississippi Free Press three years ago to shine a bright light on the state’s politics, history, and culture. The MFP has grown into a journalistic force. I am excited to join its advisory board, because the force of sunlight can be so powerful. I want to share Donna Ladd’s last newsletter, introducing a new reporter—Torsheta Jackson—and describing some of their exciting plans for the future. This team wants to free Mississippi from the dead hand of the past. Read Donna’s letter and I think you will understand why I am so enthusiastic about the Mississippi Free Press.

Read our latest stories from And please support our work: Thank you! Meet Torsheta Jackson!

Donna writes:

One of my favorite reporting trips ever was touring around Noxubee County with then-freelance writer Torsheta Jackson in the thick of the COVID-19 pandemic. Because she grew up in the East Mississippi county, over on the Alabama border, Torsheta was the tour guide, driving us around in her big truck I had to lift myself into. First, she pointed out where she grew up in Shuqualak (locally pronounced “Sugar-lock”), the child of educators. Along the way, she pointed out slabs where industry, grocery stores and schools used to stand before her hometown became a shell of its former self over the decades after forced integration in 1970.

We walked around the ruins that now dominate the little downtown and talked about poverty, neglect, white-flight cycles and disinvestment in the county settled by rich white planters—including Mississippi State University founder Stephen D. Lee’s family—and built by enslaved people. The county has always been majority-Black, but usually under white control, from newspapers, to industry, to local education decisions and resources. It was also the site of vicious white terrorism to keep it that way.

Click now to support MFP’s Mapping Mississippi systemic-reporting strategy covering the 82 counties of Mississippi.

In the county seat of Macon, Torsheta showed me the county’s only remaining grocery store—white-owned and too expensive in a region where hunger is far too rampant, she said. She then took me to see the library, which still has its gallows, where they used to hang people in front of crowds on the front lawn, now marketed as a tourist attraction. We looked straight out the front window of the library at the tall Confederate statue standing in front of the courthouse across the street in a town that is 82% Black. The Board of Supervisors voted in July 2020 to remove it; last I checked, it was still there as post-George Floyd anti-racism enthusiasm wanes.

Torsheta showed me the abandoned Central Academy, which the superintendent of the county public schools helped open in the 1960s, supported by state vouchers, becoming the seg academy’s headmaster. She drove me to all the now-boarded-up, or disappeared or repurposed, public schools that used to be in Noxubee (locally pronounced “Nock-shu-bee”) County before most white families fled either to C.A. or to the local Mennonite school, which also opened in 1970.

Torsheta and I spent hours in the “new” Noxubee County public school just north of Macon, talking to the principal and the school psychologist—both women she knew growing up there. We learned about the perpetual state of crisis that faces the district and its one remaining public-school system covering the entire county; district leadership was changing again that day, in fact. And, of course, we learned about the systemic challenges that face Black women and their families, in particular, in Noxubee County, from no broadband, to hunger, to mental health and more. Their honesty with us informed Torsheta’s award-winning installment of our “(In)equity and Resilience: Black Women, Systemic Barriers and COVID-19” cause-solutions journalism project. It is now the prototype of our statewide county-level Mapping Mississippi systemic-reporting strategy that we’re amping up by summer with Torsheta’s help and inspiration.

Not to mention, a new area of research opened up for me when I heard the school psychologist’s story about a mob of local white men killing a Black woman school principal to stop the education and advancement of Black children: white terrorism specifically deployed to keep Black children uneducated and, thus, inequity and white control in place for generations to come. They said what they were doing for white-supremacy perpetuity right in the local newspaper. It wasn’t a secret. They bragged about ugly mob race violence by county leaders.Make a recurring donation now monthly, quarterly or annually to support the systemic journalism of Torsheta Jackson and our other reporters. Become an MFP VIP Club member.

It was an eye-opening and powerful journey for us both. Torsheta would later say on MFP Live that, before that reporting experience, she had not understood fully how intentional barriers and discrimination caused the decline of her home county over the decades. After this journey into the past, she did.

It was also on that tour of Noxubee County that I decided that I wanted Torsheta as a full-time reporter to take her systemic journalism across the state and help me build our Education Equity Solutions Lab. This is a very different kind of education reporting than the partisan griping about schools and funding that we usually see in Mississippi. For me, what I called Project Torsheta started on that trip. With her years of teaching experience (19 as of now), her brilliance, her curiosity, her wit and her stunning work ethic, I knew Torsheta was the kind of reporter Mississippi needs and deserves covering education. She can show us like no one else how education’s use as a political tool hurts families, children and whole communities.

Fast forward a couple of years, and it’s happening. Report for America announced Wednesday that it is supporting Torsheta as our lead education-equity reporter to do this work, paying a chunk of her salary for the next two to three years. After two years of working together to figure out timing and resources, Torsheta and I—and our whole team—are ecstatic that our vision is happening. I cannot wait to develop this work with Torsheta, and it doesn’t hurt that we recently hired fantastic Business Manager Jared Norton to free me up for more journalism. Torsheta and I (and others) will soon be traveling the state together again, doing the systemic journalism we know can help improve this state for all of our people.

I’ll talk more soon about our second new reporter we announced this week. Heather Harrison of Copiah County is the vivacious and dogged outgoing editor of The Reflector at Mississippi State. I knew in our first conversation (and then confirmed in a team solution circle) that she is bringing the energy, passion and curiosity that it takes to succeed and thrive at the Mississippi Free Press. She’ll be our first regional full-time bureau reporter, remaining in Starkville to largely cover that region of the state and help us collaborate with the Starkville Daily News.

Needless to say, you readers are making all of this growth happen. We started with $50,000 and one full-time reporter just three years ago. You have helped create 17 good-paying jobs and pay for myriad freelancers, contractors and interns—most of them brilliant and engaged Mississippi natives staying in their home state to do the work. Our resources are mostly from readers. You get it, and you are intentionally helping us grow our team and our reach to more counties.

Please help keep us growing by giving what you can now at Remember, your recurring donations are paying for at least one reporter already, so every amount matters.

Donna Ladd, Editor and CEO

A federal judge ruled that Mississippi must allow religious exemptions for vaccines now required for entry to public or private schools. It turns out that most states allow religious exemptions. Public health must take a back seat in this new age of vaccine hysteria.

Ashton Pittman of the Mississippi Free Press reports:

Anti-vaccine activists are celebrating in Mississippi after a federal judge struck down the State’s long-standing childhood vaccine requirements for public or private school attendance, saying the State must allow religious exemptions like most others already do. Mississippi is one of just six states that only permits childhood vaccines for medical reasons, with no religious exemptions.

The Texas-based Informed Consent Action Network funded the lawsuit, filed in September 2022, arguing that the lack of religious exemptions for vaccines violates the First Amendment’s guarantees of the free exercise of religion. On Tuesday, U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Mississippi Judge Sul Ozerden agreed with ICAN’s argument.

The George W. Bush-appointed judge’s order says that starting on July 15, the Mississippi State Department of Health “will be enjoined from enforcing (Mississippi’s compulsory vaccination law) unless they provide an option for individuals to request a religious exemption from the vaccine requirement.” The State could still appeal the ruling, however.

Mississippi’s compulsory childhood immunization requirements include a vaccine for diphtheria, tetanus and pertussis; for polio; for hepatitis B; for measles, mumps and rubella; and for chickenpox. The State does not mandate COVID-19 vaccines. Mississippi has the highest childhood vaccination rate in the nation, a fact that MSDH has attributed to strict vaccine laws. While other states with more permissive vaccine laws have reported measles outbreaks in recent years, Mississippi has not reported a case originating in the state in decades.

Donna Ladd wrote a compelling story about how white flight in Noxubee County, Mississippi, killed hopes for integration in the 1950s and 1960s. Ladd is the founder and editor of the Mississippi Free Press.

Whites had long controlled the county and its schools. They were determined not to permit any racial integration. Their response to the Brown decision of 1954 was to stall, stall, stall.

When whites realized that the federal courts were determined to integrate the schools, they had two strategies to defy court orders. One was to open “segregation academies,” like today’s charter schools. The other was to create voucher programs so that white children could participate at all-white private academies.

The story is fascinating. It’s not likely to be taught in public schools, because some people might think this honest retelling of what happened might make white students—more likely, their parents—uncomfortable.

The Mississippi Free Press reported recently on a failed effort in Mississippi to restore the public’s right to initiate and vote on statewide referenda.

Mississippi citizens will not be able to organize and vote on issues using ballot initiatives again any time soon after a Mississippi Senate leader allowed legislation that would have revived the option to die on calendar due to multiple concerns—including his fear that voters could use an initiative to repeal the state’s “right-to-work” law, which severely limits labor union organizing in the state.

The Mississippi Supreme Court nullified the ballot initiative process in a 2021 ruling that also killed a voter-approved medical marijuana law. Senate Concurrent Resolution 533, which lawmakers in the upper chamber passed on Feb. 9, would have restored a more limited version of the ballot initiative process.

The House made substantial modifications to the Senate’s bill, though, including removing a provision that said voters would not be able to “amend or repeal the constitutional guarantee that the right of any person to work shall not be denied or abridged on account of membership or nonmembership in any labor union or organization.” They also inserted a prohibition on using ballot initiatives to amend Mississippi’s highly restrictive abortion laws, which polls show most voters oppose.

After the House made its changes, Mississippi Senate Accountability, Efficiency, Transparency Committee Chairman John A. Polk could have sent the bill back to the Senate floor for concurrence or he could have called for a conference between the two chambers to iron out their differences. Instead, the Hattiesburg Republican allowed it to die on deadline Thursday.

Polk told the Mississippi Free Press he did not see a path to an agreement.

“We were so far apart. I don’t think there was any way we would ever get an agreement in conference,” the senator said.

The chairman said it “was disturbing to me” that House lawmakers removed language from the bill that would have prohibited voters from altering Mississippi’s right-to-work law.

“They took that out of the bill we sent, and that was disturbing to me because I’m not sure why they did it,” he said. “Mississippi needs and should be a right-to-work state.”

While supporters of right-to-work laws say they increase worker freedom by banning union membership requirements as a condition of employment, opponents argue that such laws lower wages and weaken worker protections by curtailing the ability of labor unions to organize.

Open the link and read the rest of the story.

Democracy is not alive and well in a state that refuses to acknowledge the will of the people but prefers to limit the voice of the public by gerrymandering control of the legislature.

Moriah Balongit of The Washington Post wrote an excellent and deeply sad story about a poor rural district in Mississippi that can’t find permanent teachers for essential subjects. The district is 98% black. It has a young and energetic principal. But it doesn’t have enough teachers. This dire situation—and the dramatic reduction of students in teacher-preparation programs can be traced in large part to the sustained attack on teachers conducted by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, the Broad Foundation, and rightwing think tanks.

Starting in 2010 with the propaganda film “Waiting for ‘Superman,’” the American public was bombarded by negative screeds about teachers, blaming them for low test scores and for the ills of society. The Billionaire Boys and Girls club heaped scorn on public schools and their teachers. They promoted bogus research claiming that teachers could be evaluated by the test scores of their students. Instead of clamoring for higher teacher pay and more resources for the neediest schools, they poured millions into Teach for America, which sent a few thousand inexperienced, ill-trained, idealistic college graduates into needy districts, committed to stay for only two years. They poured even more millions into charter schools, as did the U.S. Department of Education.

Now districts like the one described in this article suffer the consequences of the Billionaires’ war on teachers. Why weren’t the super-rich fighting for the kids in districts like Rosedale instead of promoting diversions?

The article has many helpful links. They didn’t transfer over when I copied it. I hope you can open it.

These young people are being cheated out of a good education. They don’t need charter schools, vouchers or TFA. They need the money to hire and retain well-prepared, experienced teachers.

ROSEDALE, Miss. — It’s near the end of the day at West Bolivar High School, and Jordan Mosley is stuck. The 15-year-old sophomore stares at her laptop and restarts the video.

Her teacher that day is a stranger — a nameless long-haired man on the screen. He explains two-column geometry proofs and how students could use the software to complete them. “Prove if the length of AB is equal to the length of EF,” the man says.

But there is no one to ask for help in this classroom, where students stare sleepily at laptops amid the din of a portable air conditioner. There is only a teacher’s assistant who can print out additional worksheets if they run into trouble. So Jordan, a top student, decides to wait until she can see Ms. Butler, the high school’s popular math teacher — and its only one.

The virtual session is not a concession to pandemic learning or a stopgap for a teacher who is sick. It is how sophomores are expected to learn geometry this year after the district could not find a teacher. In the Mississippi Delta, where schools have historically been shortchanged, teaching candidates — especially those who know math — are hard to come by.

The nature and the severity of the teacher crisis differ radically from state to state, district to district and even school to school. Some districts have only recently started experiencing teacher shortages, but in many Southern states, the problem has been long-standing and only gotten worse. It doesn’t help either that the state has shortchanged districts like West Bolivar Consolidated by millions of dollars, failing to fund a program that would send more money to poor districts.

Researchers have found that schools that serve high percentages of minority students and students in poverty have more difficulty finding and retaining qualified educators than Whiter, more affluent schools. The West Bolivar Consolidated School District is 98 percent Black, and 100 percent of children qualify for free or reduced-price meals.

Across the country, states and school districts desperate for candidates have resorted to shortening school weeks to make the job more appealing, eliminating requirements and, in nearby Oklahoma, permitting school districts to hire people without any college education.
In the West Bolivar Consolidated School District, keeping schools staffed is a high-wire balancing act that relies on long-term substitutes, virtual classes and hiring educators to teach subjects they have no training in. Throughout the fall, Superintendent Will Smith said, the district had bent so many rules to hire educators that it risked losing accreditation.

“It’s not fair,” he said, “but what else do we have?…”

Like a lot of communities in the region, the county is rich in culture, history and community pride but economically poor, having lost population when manufacturing jobs left and agriculture became more automated. Those who remain send their children to deteriorating schools that their districts struggle to run because of a dwindling tax base and a state legislature reluctant to fund schools at the per-student rate the law is supposed to guarantee.

It’s how three small-town school districts with rival sports teams merged to become one — West Bolivar Consolidated — in 2014, at the behest of state lawmakers.

When public schools were compelled to integrate here, White students moved to private schools that came to be known as segregation academies — institutions that still stand today and serve a largely White student body. The desegregation fight in the county is hardly history: In 2016, a federal judge ordered two high schools in Cleveland, the county’s largest city, to consolidate into one to better integrate the student body. But at the schools that make up the West Bolivar district, there is nothing to integrate. White students left in the 1970s after courts told schools to open their doors to children of any race.

What’s happening in West Bolivar is common across Mississippi. Researchers trying to understand the teacher shortage could find sufficient data for only 37 states, and among those, Mississippi’s was the worst. For every 10,000 students there, 69 teacher positions are unfilled or filled by someone without traditional credentials. That’s 159 times the ratio in Missouri, according to their working paper, published by Brown University’s Annenberg Institute for School Reform.

It has been difficult to attract teachers to the district, and many of the people who work at the school grew up in the region. Smith, the enthusiastic 36-year-old who took the reins of the district last June, hopes to create an energy and a buzz that will draw people to this part of the state.

One tactic he used to excite people in his previous job, as principal of Utica Elementary Middle School near Jackson, made him a local celebrity: His school’s Facebook page featured videos of him surprising teachers with monthly awards. That reputation followed him to West Bolivar, and teachers in neighboring districts, according to Smith, tried to get out of their contracts to go work for him. He recruited his assistant superintendent from another Delta school system. He also had his own tricks for recruiting, starting his searches in January and locking staff down by February.
Still, six weeks into the school year, he had several teacher vacancies. One of the jobs he was hiring for? Middle-school math teacher.

On a day in late September, seventh-graders got to their seats in a math classroom overseen for the day by a teacher’s assistant at West Bolivar High, where a motivational poster declared: “I can keep going when things are tough.”

Their teacher, 42-year-old Camellia Jenkins, was 18 miles away in a classroom full of seventh-graders at the McEvans School in Shaw, Miss. Jenkins toggled back and forth, teaching two different lessons simultaneously because the McEvans students were behind in the curriculum. Piped into the classroom on laptop speakers, she was difficult to hear over the rumble of the air conditioning.

“The assignment you all are doing at West Bolivar, how are you all doing?” Jenkins asked. Later in the lesson, she asked: “What happens to the 3x now?”
“I have no clue,” a student in the back muttered.
These students, in a sense, are lucky. Two other educators — one who teaches Spanish, and another who teaches high school science — also split their time between the two campuses. But in September there were no teacher assistants available to set up a virtual class and supervise students. So when their teachers were not in the building, students worked on assignments independently. (The district has since lined up teaching assistants, so students learn from their teachers over Zoom half the time.)

Shana Bolden, the high school science teacher, said she worries about the students who are left to teach themselves. Those who are not reading on grade level, for example, will struggle to understand a science lesson.

And a lack of funding means neither school has a science lab, so students who want to study science in college may be woefully underprepared. Bolden said she doesn’t think her brightest students are being sufficiently challenged.

Quintarion Hays, 15, is one of them. With his straight A’s, he aspires to work in cybersecurity or computer engineering — and to be the first in his family to finish college. This year, though, only half of his six classes have full-time teachers. He’s in Spanish and chemistry, where he sees teachers only every other day. Then there’s the geometry class, with no teacher.

For his part, Hays said he actually likes the schedule. It allows him a little bit of a break when his teachers travel to other campuses. And he does not struggle to keep up with the work.
“I’m self-motivated,” Hays said. “I’ve had a 4.0 so far, my whole high school career.”

At the recent homecoming parade, Etoshia Robinson, 28, and her 14-year-old daughter, Sariyah Drake, watched as the queen, wearing a six-inch-high tiara, rode by wearing a dress with blinding red sequins. Robinson graduated from Shaw High School, which has since been shuttered, and remembers having veteran teachers who had been in the district so long that they taught multiple generations of students.

Her daughter’s experience has been different. Just this year, Sariyah enrolled in a band class and had hoped to play trumpet, but the teacher was transferred to West Bolivar High after three days of school.

“The kids were looking forward,” Robinson said. “They hadn’t had a band teacher in years. They were excited.”

You don’t need a teaching credential to know children learn better from an in-person instructor than a computer program. Nafatic Butler, West Bolivar High’s beloved math teacher, spelled out some of the reasons: A computer program is a one-size-fits-all approach, not taking into account that some students may learn differently from others. A computer program can’t detect when a student is struggling because they need to review concepts they learned earlier.

And a computer program cannot see when a student is down, stressed or in need of something other than help with math. A computer program cannot be a confidante or a role model or a mentor.

“If they have [math] questions, I’m there,” Butler said. “If they need me, I’m there. If they need to talk, I’m there.”

Next year, though, Butler won’t be there. She’s planning to move to Texas, where she anticipates she won’t have any trouble getting a job — or a raise.

The importance of teachers cannot be underestimated. Research suggests that they matter more to a child’s learning than any other school-based factor, including the condition of the school building or the principal. Teachers not only affect academic achievement, they can also influence the likelihood a child will graduate from high school and how much they’ll learn over the course of their lives, researchers found. For children whose teachers are underqualified, inexperienced or nonexistent, the stakes are high.

West Bolivar Consolidated has been plagued by high turnover, and many of the teachers it hires are new and lack the training for the classes they’re supposed to teach. Measured on state assessments against other school districts with more resources and fewer vacancies, it came out near the bottom, receiving a D for its dismal test scores.

Mississippi’s teacher shortage is long-standing, dating back to at least 1998, when state legislators passed a law that offered college scholarships for teachers-in-training in exchange for a commitment to teach in a community with a shortage. It has tried a number of initiatives to recruit teachers, including residencies where the state pays the tuition of a prospective teacher and a stipend for them to do long-term student teaching.

Still, it has proved difficult to keep teachers in Mississippi because the pay has been historically low compared with that of other states. Two years ago, Mississippi came in dead last in average teacher pay, according to a National Education Association report, at a little less than $47,000 a year.

Last year, for the first time, the state’s Department of Education surveyed districts to learn just how many teachers were needed. It found that schools had more than 3,000 positions that were either vacant or filled by uncertified instructors. Not long after, the state gave teachers a historic pay increase, boosting salaries by an average of $5,140.

Nationally, experts trace the current teacher shortage to the 2008 Great Recession, when the nation’s public education system lost more than 120,000 teachers. When the economy rebounded and schools started hiring again, they found that many of those who had left were reluctant to return. There have been other factors, too: The number of people entering teacher training programs dropped by about one-third between 2008 and 2019.

One Monday in mid-September, Smith got an email that a U.S. Postal Service employee had applied through the school’s website. The woman had not taught on her own before, but she had a combination of qualities that no one else did: credentials to teach math, and a desire to work in this out-of-the-way school district.

“When you get that email, you’re jumping,” Smith said. “You have to quickly call the candidate and have a talk before they get hired by somebody else.”

He offered her a job over the phone, pending approval of the school board. Then he called an in-person emergency board meeting, and members quickly signed off. Within a week, the woman was in front of students at West Bolivar Middle.

By late December, though, the picture still looked bleak. A woman who had come back part time to teach art at McEvans had decided not to return for the second semester. Smith’s plan to move a long-term substitute to the same school to restore the music class was also derailed when the man called to say he planned to stop subbing at the end of the semester. And Smith had given up on trying to find teachers for Spanish, chemistry or geometry for the current school year.

Still, there was little he could do for students in classes now. It was hardly fair for the students, who would face state exams just like their peers in districts that had in-person teachers five days a week, instead of a patchwork of instructors who often left midyear, he said.

A month later, the district’s luck shifted: He hired five teachers — two for high school science, and three for elementary school — for the upcoming school year.

“At the end of the day, you’re still expected to produce the results,” Smith said. “None of the excuses are going to matter.”

The Mississippi Free Press is a fearless news outlet that takes on controversial topics and also highlights news and culture in the nation’s poorest state. At the beginning of last year, it ran a three-part series on Christian Dominionism, which has a strong foothold in the state. The Dominionists promoted the abortion law that led to the reversal of Roe v. Wade. But their fight to outlaw abortion is only one aspect of their agenda. Their goal is to change every aspect of the law and society to conform to their view of Christian rule. As part of their mission, they seek to eliminate public schools, which they consider godless. Their goal is to make the United States a Christian nation. They were thrilled by Trump’s appointments to the U.S. Supreme Court.

The following excerpt is drawn from part one of a three-part series. I’m posting only twice today so you will take the time to read this important article in full.

Staff writer Ashton Pittman wrote:

Alliance Defending Freedom’s founders included Mississippian Don Wildmon, who also founded the Tupelo-based American Family Association. Wildmon and the others in the group of nearly three dozen conservative Christians who launched the organization in 1993 as the Alliance Defense Fund envisioned it as a counter to the American Civil Liberties Union, which opposed overt efforts to mix religion and government and was known for its support of abortion rights and the rights of sexual minorities..

Six years after launching, the ADF created The Blackstone Legal Fellowship, a Christian summer training program for up-and-coming attorneys. In the ADF’s 2000 tax filings, the organization explained that the Blackstone program “provides cutting-edge legal education” and also offers attorneys access to “up-to-date developments in the areas of religious liberties, the sanctity of human life, and traditional family values.”

“As a rigorous internship for exceptionally capable and highly motivated law students, the Blackstone Fellowship inspires a distinctly Christian worldview in every area of law, and particularly in the areas of public policy and religious liberty,” the ADF’s IRS tax filings say.

“With this ongoing program, it’s ADF’s goal to train a new generation of lawyers who will rise to positions of influence and leadership as legal scholars, litigators, judges-and perhaps even Supreme Court judges—who will work to ensure that justice is carried out in America’s courtrooms.”

The ADF’s description of itself in those tax filings is emblematic of “full-blown” Christian dominionist thought, Frederick Clarkson told the Mississippi Free Press on Dec. 3, 2021. He is a senior research analyst at Political Research Associates, a Boston-area think tank that monitors anti-democratic movements and ideologies including Christian dominionism and white nationalism.

“That’s the idea that conservative Christians should be dominating every aspect of society,” he explained. Adherents to dominionism often talk about a “biblical worldview” or talk about “building the kingdom,” he added.

Christian dominionism is a religious and political movement that began in earnest during the 20th century and includes a cross-section of various denominations. Many who subscribe to it do not self-identify as dominionists, though, Clarkson noted.

“Not everyone is going to say, ‘Hey, I’m a dominionist. I’m all about theocracy.’ Not many people are going to say that, but this body of theological thought has been percolating throughout the evangelical world for decades,” he said. “If you think that America should be a Christian nation, well, what should that look like? And that’s where the dominionist agenda comes in. It’s not just any conservative thinking.”

Dominionist goals reach far beyond abortion, he said.

“While abortion and Roe and Dobbs are what we’re looking at in the heat of the moment, this is just one battle in a larger war for the world,” Clarkson said….

Taking Control of ‘Seven Mountains’

The New Apostolic Reformation dates back to C. Peter Wagner, who began preaching in the 1950s and died in 2016. He taught that God had begun preparing the world for a “third great awakening” that would sweep the earth before the apocalyptic events foretold in the Book of Revelation take place.

As part of this awakening, Wagner taught, Christians would take dominion over the “seven mountains” or “seven spheres” of cultural influence: family, religion, education, business, government, media and the arts. (Some adherents of the belief, known as “seven mountains dominionism,” instead combine media and arts into a single category and add the military as the seventh “mountain”). Top Mississippi state officials, including Gov. Tate Reeves, attended a prayer event in May 2021 hosted by an organization that openly adheres to “seven mountains” beliefs….

While Calvinism tends toward an intellectual approach to religion and theology, Pentecostalism, which includes hundreds of denominations and independent, non-denominational churches, is much more experientially oriented. Unlike Calvinists, Pentecostals believe in the modern occurrence of spiritual “gifts” such as prophecy, speaking in tongues and supernatural healing.

Despite their differences, including the timeline for Christian dominionism, Reconstructionists and Pentecostals held a series of dialogues throughout the late 20th century to flesh out a common set of goals and principles.

After one series of Reconstructionist-Pentecostal dialogues in Dallas in 1987, Clarkson notes, Christian Reconstructionist pastor Joseph Morecraft declared that “God is blending Presbyterian theology with Charismatic zeal into a force that cannot be stopped.” (“Pentecostal” and “Charismatic” are often used interchangeably or to describe largely overlapping Christian sects that believe in spiritual gifts).

Those dialogues, Clarkson told the Mississippi Free Press, shaped the modern dominionist movement and much of 21st-century American politics.

“That opened the door to political action that brought about the Christian Right that we see today,” Clarkson said.

“So as elements of Pentecostalism adopted these ideas, then we began to see what we now call the New Apostolic Reformation, and they were able to package it in a way where you didn’t have to have a P.h.D. In theology to understand. So they talked about simply dividing up all of society.

“They said, well, there’s seven main sections of society, and you need to figure out which ‘mountain’ you need to be a part of trying to conquer in order to build the kingdom of God. Really smart marketing. That’s what we’re talking about here.”

In his 2008 book, “Dominion! How Kingdom Action Can Change the World,” Wagner, the NAR and Seven Mountains theology pioneer, put it simply: “We have an assignment from God to take dominion and transform society.”

‘The Battle To Take The Land’

Like Engle, Alliance Defending Freedom’s CEO and general counsel Michael Farris has long sought to use the levers of society to establish Christ’s kingdom on earth. He founded the Home School Legal Defense Association, an ADF affiliate that has spent years lobbying state governments to make it easier for Christian parents to homeschool their children. (Rushdoony emphasized the necessity of Christian homeschooling to equip future generations for Christian dominion).

In the first chapter of his 2005 book, “The Joshua Generation: Restoring the Heritage of Christian Leadership,” Farris made a bold claim: “I have met countless future senators, governors, presidents, and Supreme Court justices.” He was describing his meetings with parents of homeschooled children, where he says “dreams of generational greatness burn brightly.”

“These moms and dads truly believe that their children are called to be the leaders of the future. … They believe that their own children, in many cases, have unusually high prospects for being particular people who will rise to the top levels of government, law, journalism, media, religion, art, business, and science,” he wrote, referring to the seven mountains Wagner taught. “I think they are absolutely right.”

In the book, Farris explained that the point of advocating for homeschooling rights in state legislatures was never simply about homeschooling itself.

“While those battles are important and will always continue to some degree, homeschool freedom is not the end goal. It is a means to a far greater end,” Farris wrote. The Christian homeschool movement can judge its long-term success, he said, by evaluating their results against a passage in the Book of Hebrews that describes godly heroes “who through faith conquered kingdoms, administered justice, and gained what was promised; who shut the mouths of lions, quenched the fury of the flames … and who became powerful in battle and routed foreign armies.”

The end goal of the Christian homeschooling movement, he said, was to raise a generation of children who would do those very things in the “Christian assignment of redeeming the culture.”

“How should we judge our success? … Do we see our children administering justice, gaining what was promised, shutting the mouths of lions, and quenching the fury of the flames? … Have they become powerful in battle?”

Public Schools ‘Essentially Satanic’

Farris and others like him, Clarkson said, fear that sending children to public schools is the same as “turning them over to institutions that are essentially Satanic and teaching children things that are not only non-Christian, but anti-Christian.”

“The idea of Christianizing schools or taking these children out of the public schools and into private Christian academies or homeschool has been in the works for a long time,” he said. “They managed to get right-to-homeschool as part of the Republican platform under Reagan in the 1980s. This has been a long-term process.”

Farris is now CEO and general counsel of ADF.

Supreme Court Justice Amy Coney Barrett gave lectures at ADF’s Blackstone training program for future lawyers.

In its 2000 tax filings, the ADF explained that once fellows complete the Blackstone program, they will have “caught a vision for how God can use them as judges, law professors, and practicing attorneys to help keep the door open for the spread of the gospel in America.”

The ADF also said in the filings that it had “effectively equipped attorneys to battle the homosexual agenda, defend parental rights, and protect religious freedom” with a separate training program known as the National Litigation Academy.

The founders of this nation wrote a Constitution to govern the new nation. They did not say it would be a “Christian nation.” They specifically barred any religious tests for holding office. There are many religions in this nation, as well as atheists. The Dominionists threaten the freedoms of all those who do not share their views.

I urge you to send a contribution to the Mississippi Free Press to help them continue the important work they do. I sent them $100, my second contribution to help sustain their wonderful voice in Mississippi.

Imagine a crusading news site in Mississippi, one of the poorest and most corrupt states in the nation. That news site is the Mississippi Free Press. It recently filed a complaint with the state ethics commission after it was excluded from a meeting of the GOP caucus, which is so large that it constitutes a quorum.

The ethics commission ruled that the state legislature is not a “public body.”

The Mississippi Ethics Commission held its likely final discussion on the Mississippi Free Press’ complaint against the State House of Representatives today, restating their disagreements over the commission’s decision to declare the Mississippi Legislature not a public body under the Open Meetings Act. The Zoom stream of today’s meeting had high attendance of up to 70 viewers at one time, including representatives of multiple media outlets.

The Mississippi Free Press first filed a complaint in April 2022, after this reporter was barred from a meeting of the House GOP Caucus at the Mississippi Legislature. The caucus, which contains 75 of the 122 members of the chamber, represents a quorum of the Legislature, and is a powerful, secretive driver of key legislative agendas. Later, attorney Rob McDuff filed an additional complaint on behalf of the Mississippi Free Press.

Last week, Ethics Commission Executive Director Tom Hood recommended that the commission rule in favor of the Mississippi Free Press, writing that “it is essential to the fundamental philosophy of the American constitutional form of representative government and to the maintenance of a democratic society that public business undertaken by a quorum of the House of Representatives be performed in an open and public manner.”

But the commission overruled his recommendation 5-3, substantially rejecting the argument that the House of Representatives constituted a public body, but pushing off a final decision to the debate this week.

Stephen Burrow, who argued against the Legislature’s inclusion in the Open Meetings Act, summed up the perspective of his five fellow commission members who voted against the Mississippi Free Press’ complaint. “(The Legislature is) constitutionally obligated to keep (its) doors open,” Burrow said, referring to Section 58 of the Mississippi Constitution. It states: “The doors of each House, when in session, or in committee of the whole, shall be kept open, except in cases which may require secrecy.”

Furthermore, Burrow said, he agreed with this reporter’s complaint in principle. “I think I speak for every member of this commission that we believe that the Legislature should be open, is required to be open and that meetings of the (House Republican) caucus should be open, but that’s not what’s before us.”

“What is before us is whether or not the Legislature chose to include itself within the definition of a public body, and it’s very plain to me that while they included (legislative) committees, they excluded other committees from this for whatever reason. When the Open Meetings Act was passed in 1975, they chose not to include themselves.”

Apparently, in the view of the Ethics Commission, the State Legislature is a private club. Sounds about right seeing how they take care of public needs.

Ellen Ann Fentress is a Mississippi writer who dug deep into a state tradition of converting federal funds for the poor into a boondoggle for the few. She writes here in an upstart online investigative journal called the Mississippi Free Press. (To learn more about this brave entry into investigative journalism in Mississippi, read this post.) Federal money intended to supply housing for poor and middle-income Mississippians was diverted by politicians to refurbishing a port, which benefitted the casino industry.

She writes:

The plantation-owner model lingers in the Mississippi imagination. It’s manifested, for example, in the local soft spot for white columns on McMansions and even gas stations in suburban communities.

The plantation archetype, however, is not a yokel, but the opposite. To make money off his cash crop—that’s the definition of a plantation over a self-sustaining farm—the plantation owner had to master credit lines and commodity futures in a far-off financial market and put that mastery into play on his home soil. His success rested on being a bifurcated practitioner. His feet in his home dirt, his head attuned elsewhere.

I wrote a version of those words in mid-2008 for the Oxford American magazine about how then-Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour had channeled $570 million in Hurricane Katrina housing recovery funds away from rebuilding housing for poor Gulf Coast residents and toward improving the state port at Gulfport.

In words not that different from what we’re hearing now about the arrogant and greedy redirection of federal Temporary Assistance for Needy Families funds, Barbour’s excuse for hubristic diversion was economic development.

Sinking recovery money into the port would bring 6,500 direct jobs, the Yazoo City native declared in 2009. His economic trickle-down policy hit the right note with the national free-market conservative audience. The powerful Washington lobbyist and former head of the party tested the GOP presidential waters for 2008, in fact, stymied in part by his own words about racism in his hometown.

Barbour’s port move, however, was at the expense of low- and middle-income Coast residents cut out of the state’s recovery aid framework that was weighted toward homeowners with insurance policies. The promised high-paying jobs hardly materialized, either.

Amid the outrage around the money grab of $77 million in TANF funds discovered in a state audit of 2016-2020 TANF spending, Haley Barbour’s $570-million port gambit must not be forgotten. And it’s historically instructive. The willingness of Mississippi leaders to arbitrarily hijack federal funds away from specific needy recipients is not a new story.

The TANF scandal is only the latest rendition.

‘Not Asking the Hard Questions’

Reilly Morse was a Mississippi Center for Justice attorney involved in the court fight over the port funding. Morse sees the similarities in Barbour’s handling of Katrina funds from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development and the recent TANF revelations that emerged in early 2020 during the administration of Barbour’s successor, Phil Bryant.

Bryant was state auditor during Barbour’s time in office, and current Gov. Tate Reeves was state treasurer.

“They count on people not asking the hard questions,” Morse said in an Oct. 4 telephone interview. “I think that’s another common theme here because all of these folks that lambast Washington adore disaster-response money or other block-grant money, social-services block-grant money, that they think they can just clear out regardless of whether it benefits the people.”

In December 2008, the Mississippi Center for Justice and other community groups sued HUD for allowing the port funding since Congress had appropriated the monies for low- and middle-income home repair. The litigation ended in 2010 when Barbour, HUD and the Mississippi housing advocates negotiated an agreement to provide $133 million to assist low-income Mississippians still in need of Katrina-damaged home repair.

HUD had expected the project to create 1,300 jobs and retain 1,300 more. By 2013, no new permanent jobs had been created, a 2013 PEER committee report found. That number is shocking in the way that learning that the State of Mississippi only qualified 1.5 percent of TANF applicants for cash assistance in the nation’s poorest state in 2016, the first year of the MDHS audit.

But shunting Katrina housing money toward the port wasn’t shocking enough to break through in Mississippi media outlets that tend to give Barbour a pass, nor has it re-emerged now in most outlets as important context for the current TANF scandal.

In 2019, HUD declared the job-creation goals met. Yet reaching the job-count goal required a fuzzy calculation, as journalist Anita Lee reported at the time in the Sun Heraldin Biloxi. During the Trump administration, HUD allowed Mississippi to count jobs that the Island View Casino Resort added at a new casino hotel facility since the resort was on port property. The job total still initially didn’t meet the project requirement until HUD then allowed recalculating part-time hotel jobs into full-time jobs through hours worked.

The State of Mississippi thus counted 1,167 jobs at the casino hotel as jobs creation, although the number of actual higher-paying maritime jobs at the port was only 262. Lee noted in her reporting that the state investment netted one job for every $2.2 million in recovery funds spent….

Barbour has long done his post-Katrina part for his team’s ideology—if not for the Gipper, at least for Milton Friedman. That favorite conservative economist taught that the best time to slip in a political change was in the wake of disaster. “Only a crisis—actual or perceived—produces real change,” the Nobel Laureate wrote. “When that crisis occurs, the actions that are taken depend on the ideas lying around.”

Blanco: ‘He Only Cared What He Got’

The casinos had ideas lying around when Katrina hit.

Ever since their 1992 debut in Mississippi, it was the widely held belief in this Bible Belt state that the industry was just waiting for their then-floating facilities to crumple up in the next hurricane to justify legalizing their expansion onto land. Katrina provided the scenario. The barge on which the Grand Casino sat actually managed to crush the new Frank Gehry-designed Ohr-O’Keefe Museum of Art in Biloxi.

Barbour’s first—and chief—legislative response was to convene the Mississippi Legislature to legalize the casinos’ move inland. The powerful Southern Baptist lobby howled. But, by December, three casinos had reopened on terra firma, and by 2007, the $1.3 billion in revenue from the 11 Coast casinos topped the old pre-Katrina tally.

The state legislation squared away, Barbour headed up to his Washington stomping grounds, where Mississippi proportionately outscored Democrat-led Louisiana in Congress’ $29-billion recovery appropriation in December 2005. Barbour was the closer, persuading then-House Speaker Dennis Hastert to accept the funding terms, the New York Times reported, calling it “using a lobbyist’s pull from the governor’s seat.”

Mississippi’s take was at Louisiana’s expense, its former governor, Democrat Kathleen Blanco, later said in a July 2008 telephone interview about Barbour: “He didn’t care how much anyone else got. He only cared what he got.”

Please open the link and read more about high-level corruption at the expense of the poor people of Mississippi.