Annual New York-Mississippi Picnic canceled because of religious freedom bill

Posted on Apr 12 2016 - 8:17pm by Clara Turnage

A 36-year tradition is coming to a grinding halt as Mississippi’s contentious religious freedom bill receives yet another backlash.

The New York Mississippi Society canceled its annual summer picnic Tuesday.

“As a result of the unfortunate adoption of House Bill 1523, we have been informed that several concerned groups in New York City intend to demonstrate in protest of the passage of this law,” the society said in a statement. “Due to the controversy, the protests, and our own intensely felt dismay over HB 1523, we deeply regret that the Mississippi Picnic cannot go forward.”

Mississippians mill around the 2015 picnic. (Courtesy New York Mississippi Society Facebook)

Mississippians mill around the 2015 picnic. (Courtesy New York Mississippi Society Facebook)

Gov. Phil Bryant signed the Religious Liberty Accommodations Act into law Tuesday, April 5. The legislation preserves the right of organizations and individuals with religious affiliations to discriminate against certain persons if it is in accordance with his or her faith practices.

“I am disappointed we won’t be celebrating Mississippi’s rich and diverse culture in Central Park this year,” Bryant said in an statement to The Clarion-Ledger Tuesday. “I’m confident many New Yorkers feel the same way. I will be happy to participate in the event should organizers revive it in the future.”

After the passage of the contested Religious Restoration Act, John Currence, chef at City Grocery and Oxford native, helped organize a protest at the 2014 picnic. Currence said he was in the process of organizing a protest for this year’s event when he heard it was canceled.

“I feel strongly about being a voice for anybody who is an underdog. Most importantly, I think this sort of legislation casts the ugliest light on the state of Mississippi,” Currence said. “I think the hope is that when these things happen, the voters will put pressure on their politicians to do the right thing.”

Currence said although he is disappointed there will not be a picnic this year, it is for a good cause. “I’m sorry for the folks that would attend the picnic in the park, but these are the sorts of ramifications this sort of odious legislation provides,” Currence said.

Ignacio Murillo, a 2014 Ole Miss alumnus, said he understood the reasoning behind cancelling this event.
“I enjoyed how (the picnic) showed Mississippi’s culture to New Yorkers, but at the same time I understand why they would cancel it,” Murillo said. “New York is very diverse and open to everything. I support them canceling it because I think what Gov. Phil Bryant is doing is messed up. It would be weird to celebrate a culture that does not celebrate diversity or open-mindedness.”

Murillo, who moved to New York after graduation, said bills like this religious freedom bill set our state back and make it hard to claim Mississippi as a home.

“It’s just hard to be proud of where I’m from when the place where I’m from is not open to diversity,” Murillo said. “I don’t know how they think it’s a good idea for someone to be denied anything because of their sexual preferences.”