In a move that seems straight out of the 1960s, a Mississippi landlord has asked a husband and wife to leave his recreational vehicle (RV) park for no reason other than the fact that they are an interracial couple. And like so many attempts to discriminate in 2016, the owner of the park is relying on an old tactic, reportedly booting the two because his church opposes such marriages.
Erica Flores Dunahoo, who is Hispanic/Native American, and Stanley Hoskins, who is African American and a sergeant in the National Guard, moved into the Tupelo RV park recently with their two children.
The Jackson Clarion-Ledger said the family put down a $275 deposit and moved into the park at the end of February. When Dunahoo initially met with the owner, Gene Baker, she described him as “real nice. He invited me to church and gave me a hug. I bragged on him to my family.”
As it turns out, Baker wasn’t so nice. Dunahoo said she received a call from him the day after she moved in.
“Hey, you didn’t tell me you was married to no black man,” Baker allegedly told Dunahoo.
When asked by Dunahoo why that mattered, Baker reportedly responded: “Oh, it’s a big problem with the members of my church, my community and my mother-in-law. They don’t allow that black and white shacking.”
Baker allegedly also told Dunahoo, “You don’t talk like you wouldn’t be with no black man. If you would had come across like you were with a black man, we wouldn’t have this problem right now.”
Dunahoo told the newspaper she “prayed and prayed” for Baker to have a change of heart, but he didn’t. Dunahoo also said Baker told her that while he didn’t have a problem with interracial couples himself, and that his church would allow such couples to attend, they could not be members there.
Baker ultimately returned the $275, and the couple left. They will instead live in a RV park that charges $325 per month.
In an interview with the Clarion-Ledger, Baker admitted that he asked the couple to leave his park. But he claimed he did so “because the neighbors were giving me such a problem.”
Baker asserted that when neighbors complain “the best thing you can do is what the neighbors want to do.”
When asked by the newspaper how he intends to handle any interracial couples who may look to live in his RV park in the future, Baker said “I’m closing it down….”
Although Baker did not formally claim he has a “religious freedom” right to discriminate here, his religion-based excuse for turning away an interracial couple is only one step removed from that sort of phony legal argument.
It is far from shocking that someone would more or less claim their religious beliefs give them the right to violate well-established federal civil rights laws. We’ve seen this before. Not to mention the fact that the U.S. Supreme Court struck down state bans on interracial marriage back in 1967.
The majority of religion-based discrimination of late has involved right-wing theocrats who want to find legal cover for their animosity toward LGBT persons. But it’s quite a throwback for someone to use a similar argument to justify racism.
“Religious freedom” arguments were not used successfully to justify rank forms of discrimination in the past. There’s no reason they should be now. If such arguments are upheld by courts, however, there’s no telling how far they will go.