As a child growing up in the United States, the Constitution is one of the first things I learned about the U.S. government. During that lesson, I was taught that it is the government’s responsibility to protect Americans’ freedom of religion, even if it differs from the majority. However, this is not how it usually plays out within our society. This disconnect can be seen in small, local governments, where lawmakers focus more on their personal beliefs over the actual law. For instance, Mississippi lawmakers are actively denying constitutional rights to their citizens in Horn Lake by preventing a mosque from being built, thus feeding into lawmakers’ biases against individuals of other religions
Earlier this year, I woke up to headlines plastering my newsfeed that painted Mississippi in a horrific light. As someone who cares about my state, I was disgusted with what I saw. Horn Lake, a city in DeSoto County outside of Memphis, recently rejected two Muslim men’s plans to build the first mosque in the area. These headlines, however, did not mention Horn Lake at all, and instead focused on making Horn Lake represent Mississippi by implying that this Islamaphobic sentiment is carried by the entire state.
These articles tell the story of city leaders who rejected a zoning request for the first mosque in the city. Leaders claimed this denial was because of an insufficient water supply for the fire sprinklers and the traffic and noise the mosque could create. The leaders did not, however, do a very good job of hiding their intentions. One of the dissenting votes told the local newspaper “I don’t care what they say, their religion says they can lie or do anything to the Jews or gentiles because we’re not Muslims.”
This statement alone proves his complete ignorance when it comes to religious beliefs and shows the absolute lack of brain cells one person can have. I am no rocket scientist, but even I know an elected official should not publicly admit they went against our nation’s Constitution solely out of their own biases. Another representative who voted on this issue has since spoken out against the city and has admitted that they stepped over the line and only rejected the zoning request because they are Muslim. It is truly disgusting that this type of hate is still prevalent in Mississippi.
Thankfully, there are some good people in this state who refuse to sit by and watch this happen. The American Civil Liberties Union of Mississippi is in the process of suing the City of Horn Lake on behalf of the two Muslim men who simply wanted to build a mosque. The lawsuit claims that the City of Horn Lake denied these men their First Amendment rights to build the mosque while also violating a federal law that gives higher legal protections in land-use decisions to groups who face discrimination in the United States. The lawsuit goes on to ask the judge to nullify the decision previous lawmakers have made and order the city to permit the land-use request. Federal District Judge Micheal P. Mills has put out a statement urging the City of Horn Lake to pursue a private settlement and allow these men to obtain the permits to build the mosque.
I truly hope that the American Civil Liberties Union of Mississippi will win this case and that a mosque will be built. The decision Horn Lake lawmakers took should not reflect onto the entirety of Mississippi, as I believe that there are some good people in the South that support religious freedom for everyone. In order for the South to progress as a society, it is important for us to accept and support our Muslim brothers and sisters. It is unacceptable for Mississippi lawmakers to directly go against the Constitution, the foundation of the United States, just to support their own agenda. I truly hope that change is possible, or else Mississippi is doomed.
Willow Crosby is a sophomore majoring in accounting from Tupelo.