The truth about MS amendment 26: The players, the politics and what’s really at stake
On Nov. 8, Mississippi residents will go to the polls to vote on Amendment 26, by way of answering “Yes” or “No” to the following question:
“Should the term ‘person’ be defined to include every human being from the moment of fertilization, cloning, or the functional equivalent thereof?”
This amendment has been featured prominently on a number of different blogs and news outlets, but despite all the coverage, the true facts about’s who is behind Amendment 26 and their ultimate goals have, for the most part, failed to materialize.
The man chiefly responsible for getting Amendment 26 on the ballot is Les Riley, a prominent right wing activist with some interesting views:
On Nov. 8 Mississippi voters will decide whether a fertilized egg should be considered a ‘person,’ a movement organized by Christian activist and ‘part-time farmer and tractor salesman’ Les Riley who chairs an organization advocating for constitutional rights.
Riley’s proposed amendment to Mississippi’s state constitution, Measure 26, would define personhood as ‘every human being from the moment of fertilization, cloning or the functional equivalent thereof.’
The conservative activist, who has 10 children, submitted the proposed initiative in 2009, gathering more than 100,000 signatures in support of the measure.
‘The gay rights people say they’re the end of the civil rights movement — they’re it,’ he said at a 2009 Tea Party rally where he plugged the petition. ‘The only people who don’t have civil rights in this country are the tiny people.’
‘You cannot escape living in a religious society,’ Riley told the crowd. During the speech he described President Barack Obama as a ‘boogeyman’ and an ‘open socialist’ and Bill Clinton as a ‘bad guy.’
The American Civil Liberties Union of Mississippi and Planned Parenthood filed a lawsuit, arguing that the amendment would modify the Bill of Rights by defining what a ‘person’ is, but the Mississippi Supreme Court allowed the initiative to stay on the ballot.
The court allowed the measure to remain because they felt they could not interfere with the amendment process in the same way they could not interfere when the legislature was attempting to pass a law. Short version: The courts should only get involved after the measure becomes law.
As for Riley, he was also previously active as a blogger on a site called Christian Exodus. His posts have now mysteriously disappeared, but thanks to the power of the internet, they can still be found.
What is exactly is Christian Exodus?
According to Christian Exodus’s mission statement, ‘The initial goal was to move thousands of Christian constitutionalists to South Carolina to accelerate the return to self-government based upon Christian principles at the local and State level. This project continues to this day, with the ultimate goal of forming an independent Christian nation that will survive after the decline and fall of the financially and morally bankrupt American empire.’
The group, which is closely tied to the neo-confederate League of the South, attempted to set up an independent, theocratic state in South Carolina by 2016 but has since moved on to creating theocratic settlements in Panama and Idaho.
It’s not clear why Riley has apparently decided to disassociate himself from these folks, since they seem to have aims that are in line with his worldview, even when considering the connection to Neo-confederates.
Riley is also involved in Mississippi politics:
Riley is chairman of the Constitution Party of Mississippi and stated that its goal is to ‘restore American government to its Constitutional limits and American jurisprudence to its Biblical presuppositions.’ According to their platform, ‘The U.S. Constitution established a Republic rooted in Biblical law.’
Not exactly what the Founding Fathers had in mind, but that’s another topic for another page.
Riley is not alone in his desire to get Amendment 26 passed.
He has some very powerful allies, chief among them the Tuplo, Mississippi based American Family Association.
The AFA has not only advocated heavily for 26 on its radio broadcasts, the group also set up the official website yeson26.net and has contributed $100 000 towards the campaign. It should also be noted that the man in charge of yeson26.net, Bradley Prewitt, is concurrently in the employ of the AFA.
Interestingly, the Deputy Director of yeson26, Greg Sanders, says that despite the big time backing of religious groups and politicians, the campaign really is a voter driven thing.
“This is very much grassroots. We are using media with radio, Facebook and Twitter. We will also have billboards and at some point (will) have television ads.” source
Another question you’ll have a tough time finding an answer to in the media is: How good a chance is there at that 26 will pass?
The answer appears to be: Very good.
It likely wouldn’t be the case in many other states, but in the deeply conservative state of Mississippi, both the Republican AND Democratic candidates for Governor and attorney general have come out in support of 26.
On top of that, Mississippi is a heavily Christian state and the vast majority of church leaders across numerous denominations have heavily endorsed 26.
Not everyone is in favor of the initiative though:
Twenty years ago, when Cristen Hemmins was a student at Millsaps College, two teenagers pulled out a gun and abducted her in the campus parking lot. The young men raped her and shot her twice as she fled to a gas station for safety.
Now 40, Oxford resident Hemmins is married with three children. The memory of the sexual assault wasn’t the first thing she thought about when she decided to speak out against the “Personhood” ballot initiative that would redefine “person” or “persons” in the Mississippi Constitution to “include every human being from the moment of fertilization, cloning or the functional equivalent thereof.” But when she thought about her experience, she felt the need to share her story publicly. Had she gotten pregnant from the rape, she would have wanted the option of having an abortion.
“I have an obvious reason to be so against it,” she said of the initiative. “I am not saying that everyone should do what I do. I just don’t want the government or Mississippi voters making that decision for me. This initiative is about so much more than abortion” source
Hemmins is not alone. There have been other groups and individuals speaking out against 26. Both the ACLU and Planned Parenthood have pledged to fight the measure and even if 26 is passed it will likely be blocked or held up in court like the Texas sonogram legislation before being allowed to become law.
Mississippi voters will send a strong message to not only their own state but the entire country on Nov. 8. It will be very interesting to see what that will be.