OXFORD — Years ago I was among a group of McComb Rotarians hosting a visiting delegation from Australia.
I still recall how one of them was so amazed at the number of church buildings dotting the landscape throughout the area.
We do have a lot of churches in Mississippi, more per capita than a majority of states, not to mention Australia.
A 2017 article in U.S. News and World Report quoted a Pew Survey as listing Mississippi and Alabama tied for number one as the most religious states in the nation.
Never mind that Mississippi also has the third highest incarceration rate. We’re still a religious state, and a good many of our inmates get religion in jail.
So, Mississippi’s junior U.S. senator, Republican Cindy Hyde-Smith, had it right when she opined last week that there will be no Sunday voting in Mississippi; that is, unless the federal government somehow mandates it, which it probably won’t.
During a Senate Rules and Administration Committee hearing, Majority Leader Chuck Schumer asked about proposals in Georgia to limit in-person voting or election activities taking place on Sundays.
Hyde-Smith responded, “I can’t speak for Georgia, but I can speak for Mississippi on why we would never have an election on a Sunday. Etched in the U.S. Senate chamber is ‘In God We Trust.’ ... In God’s word, in Exodus 20:18, it says ‘Remember the Sabbath and keep it holy.’”
Hyde-Smith’s comment, as have some of her others, elicited some ridicule on social media and elsewhere.
It was pointed out that not all religions observe the Sabbath on Sunday. Those of the Jewish faith, including Schu-mer, and some Christians consider Saturday the Sabbath.
The truth is, Christians who adhere strictly to the Old Testament admonitions concerning the Sabbath are a minority. Many of us attend or participate in sporting events, shop, work, go to movies and visit casinos to gamble on Sunday.
I don’t necessarily advocate voting on Sunday, but there are worse things we could be doing.
Still, it’s not going to happen in this state.
Mississippi has a history, up until the civil rights movement and subsequent federal laws in the 1960s, of making it difficult for certain segments of the population — primarily Blacks — to vote.
Now it’s relatively easy to register and to vote in this state, unless you have to work on Tuesday and end up standing in line when you can get to the polls.
In my view, the best change Mississippi could make on voting would simply be to extend the absentee voting rules — which now apply to those over 65 — to everyone eligible to vote.
On another issue last week, Gov. Tate Reeves signed into law legislation increasing Mississippi’s lowest monthly welfare payments in the nation. It’s the first time in 21 years that the state will expand payments through the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families.
But the Republican-dominated leadership in state government still refuses to expand Medicaid to the working poor, something that would pump billions of dollars into the economy and improve health care for people who don’t now have insurance.
This recalcitrance drew a quote from Bishop Brian Seage with the Episcopal Diocese of Mississippi that is based on New Testament theology:
“God does not ask us at the judgment day if we have decreased the size of government but God will ask us how we have treated the poor and how we’ve treated the most vulnerable among us.”
To be fair, it should be pointed out that many Mississippians contribute time and money to help the poor and vulnerable. They do it on a personal level and collectively through food distribution and health care facilities.
At the same time, some of those same altruistic people support politicians who oppose the government helping out.
Maybe if we all voted on Sunday afternoon, after hearing a sermon on the 25th chapter of Matthew, beginning with verse 31, we’d have some different election outcomes.
Dunagin, who lives in Oxford, is a retired longtime Mississippi newspaperman.