A Mississippi heritage group has launched a proposed ballot measure which would amend the state's constitution to recognize Christianity as the official religion of the state and English as the official language of the state.
The 12-part measure would also establish "Confederate Heritage Month," which would provide a curriculum base for school children to learn about "Mississippi's Confederate history, heritage, achievements, and prominent people," the initiative reads.
The initiative has been endorsed by former Miss America and Mississippian Susan Akin, Mississippi author Julie Hawkins and former state Rep. Mark DuVall, who tried and failed to pass legislation while he was in office in 2011 that would have allowed the restoration of Colonel Reb as Ole Miss' mascot.
"We want to give Mississippians the voice they deserve regarding their heritage," said Arthur Randallson, director of the Magnolia State Heritage Campaign. "We believe people should get a chance vote on these important issues and preserve these elements of our heritage."
Additional proposed changes under the initiative include flying the Confederate battle flag on the grounds of the Mississippi state capitol, mandating that the Mississippi state flag pledge of allegiance be recited after the U.S. Pledge of Allegiance, and the mandatory broadcast of the song "Dixie" immediately following the playing of the "Star Spangled Banner" in public venues.
It also includes multiple provisions regarding the state's universities. State universities Alcorn State University, Delta State University, Jackson State University, Mississippi University for Women and Mississippi Valley State University would not be permitted to merge or consolidate. If passed, the University of Mississippi's on-field mascot would once again become "Colonel Reb" and the song "Dixie" would be played by the university. The initiative would also secure the existing mascots and traditions of Mississippi State University and University of Southern Mississippi.
For the initiative to make the 2016 ballot, 107,216 Mississippi residents have to sign the petition by October 2015. Randallson said the chances of the group receiving enough signatures to make the ballot "are virtually guaranteed," and he said he feels optimistic about the initiative's chances of receiving a majority of the votes in Mississippi if it advances to the 2016 ballot.
"Ballot measures are inherently difficult to predict," said John Bruce, chair of the political science department at University of Mississippi. "I'm sure they will receive the signatures to make the ballot. Never say never, but at this point, (the initiative being adopted) looks like a long shot."
The initiative began in 2011 after a failed ballot measure attempt by Randallson's former group, the Colonel Reb Political Action Committee. That 2011 ballot measure would have allowed the Colonel Reb mascot back on the sidelines in Oxford.
After the 2011 ballot measure failed, Randallson, who was then chair of the Tea Party of Mississippi, said he approached fellow Tea Party members and other colleagues involved with the Colonel Reb PAC.
"It was so much bigger than just Colonel Reb, and we felt that a broader initiative would be in the best interest of the state's voters," Randallson said. "We started formulating thoughts and developed the 12 provisions."
With a base of topics ranging from politics to religion to education, Randallson hopes the initiative will be marketable to voters in Mississippi. While he has already garnered signatures for the petition, others have expressed displeasure with the effort. Blogs and social media have begun lighting up about the issue, with users offering words like "offensive" and "embarrassing" to describe the proposal, and one blog claimed that part of the initiative was "yet another slap against racial equality and the Bill of Rights."
"If you're already being perceived poorly as Mississippi is, you'd want to stay away from those stereotypes and nullify them," Bruce said. "That's not what the group is doing at all."
5 Behold, I have taught you statutes and judgments, even as the LORD my God commanded me, that ye should do so in the land whither ye go to possess it.
6 Keep therefore and do them; for this is your wisdom and your understanding in the sight of the nations, which shall hear all these statutes, and say, Surely this great nation is a wise and understanding people.
4 And he said unto me, Son of man, go, get thee unto the house of Israel, and speak with my words unto them.
5 For thou art not sent to a people of a strange speech and of an hard language, but to the house of Israel;
6 Not to many people of a strange speech and of an hard language, whose words thou canst not understand. Surely, had I sent thee to them, they would have hearkened unto thee.