Our rights to life, liberty, property, and the pursuit of happiness
can only be secured by a state strictly separated from religion

28 October 2010

Bad News for Mississippi: Personhood on the Ballot in 2011

By Diana Hsieh

Unfortunately, Personhood USA won a major victory in court recently: a "personhood" measure has been cleared to appear on the ballot in 2011 in Mississippi. Here's their press release:

Victory for Personhood Mississippi, Planned Parenthood/ACLU Lawsuit Dealt Major Blow

Sponsors of the Mississippi Personhood Amendment, Initiative Measure Number 26, have been notified that the motion to remove the Amendment from the Ballot, filed by Planned Parenthood and the ACLU, has been denied.

ACLU and Planned Parenthood attorneys filed a lawsuit against the Mississippi Secretary of State in July, seeking to disallow Mississippi voters from voting on the Mississippi Personhood Amendment.

Amendment sponsors and volunteers exceeded state signature requirements on February 17, becoming only the fourth successful ballot initiative since 1992. The amendment, Initiative Measure Number 26, reads, "The term 'person' or 'persons' shall include every human being from the moment of fertilization, cloning or the functional equivalent thereof."

The ACLU then filed a motion for judgment on the pleadings, arguing that the Personhood amendment, which seeks to define the term "human being", modifies the Bill of Rights, which is expressly prohibited by Section 273(5). Steve Crampton, Liberty Counsel attorney for Personhood Mississippi, explained that Section 273(5) does not prohibit the definition of an otherwise undefined term, such as "person". Crampton went on to explain that the Personhood Amendment complies with section 273(5)(a) because it does not propose any new right and does not modify or repeal any existing right guaranteed under our bill of rights. Instead, the Personhood amendment merely defines the term "person", and does not modify the Bill of Rights in any way.

The Court decision read "Initiative Measure No. 26 has received more than the required amount of signatures to be placed on the ballot and the Constitution recognizes the right of citizens to amend their Constitution." The decision was ordered by Judge Malcolm Harrison.

"Isaiah 59 tells us that, 'the LORD'S hand is not shortened, that it cannot save; neither his ear heavy, that it cannot hear' so we first give all praise and honor to our Lord Jesus Christ for hearing our prayers and giving us the victory in this round" explained Les Riley, amendment sponsor. "We are grateful from this clarification. From the early days of the petition drive those opposed to the amendment have claimed that our amendment was flawed and did not meet the Constitutional muster based on a surface level researching of the law. We have been certain that we have the right to define the term 'person', and that right was affirmed by the Circuit Court and Judge Harrison. The Personhood Amendment, in defining the term 'person', merely seeks to recognize the rights of every innocent human being in Mississippi. The people of Mississippi have spoken - they want to vote to recognize those Personhood rights in November 2011."

"It is time for Mississippi voters to recognize that all human beings are people, and every person should be protected by love and by law," added Cal Zastrow, co-founder of Personhood USA. "We are praising Jesus that Planned Parenthood was thwarted in their efforts to protect their billions with frivolous lawsuits."
First, it's clearly false that a personhood amendment would not "propose any new right" or "modify or repeal any existing right guaranteed under our bill of rights." Sections 14 and 15 of Mississippi's Bill of Rights say:
Sec. 14. No person shall be deprived of life, liberty, or property except by due process of law.

Sec. 15. There shall be neither slavery nor involuntary servitude in this state, otherwise than as punishment for crime, whereof the party shall have been duly convicted.
To grant rights to embryos and fetuses would violate the life and liberty rights of every pregnant woman. At the moment of fertilization, the woman would be be legally bound to provide life-support to the embryo or fetus. She would be obliged to subordinate her values, her goals, her health, and perhaps even her life to it. That's involuntary servitude. For details, see Ari Armstrong's and my discussion of rights in pregnancy in in our policy paper on the "personhood" movement.

Second, when an organization quotes scripture and thanks Jesus in its press releases, you need not doubt that it's goal is to impose theocratic law. Such appeals to religious dogma are the life-blood of the "personhood" movement, and that's part of why "personhood" measures violate the proper wall of separation between church and state. For details, see Ari Armstrong's and my discussion of "personhood" and the separation of church and state in our policy paper.

And third, we have a year to inform the public and fight this measure. Sadly, that's the only good news.

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