Recent editorials from Mississippi newspapers:

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March 7

The Commercial Dispatch of Columbus on how officials should act when at their oath to uphold the Constitution and their beliefs conflict:

When a person is elected to office in our nation, the first thing that person does — before considering any business or casting any vote — is to take an oath of office, swearing to uphold the Constitution and the law of the land.

But what happens when honoring that commitment means violating a deeply-held conviction? Can a person be asked to violate their personal beliefs to conform with the law?

What is usually a theoretical question has been a reality in Starkville over the past two weeks. On March 6, the Starkville Board of Aldermen approved a parade permit for a March 24 parade by Starkville Pride, an LGBT group. That decision rescinded a Feb. 20 vote to deny the permit.

One vote — or rather the lack of a vote — turned out to be the deciding factor. Aldermen Ben Carver, Roy Perkins, Henry Vaughn and David Little voted against the permit on Feb. 20 in a 4-3 decision while Patrick Miller, Sandra Sistrunk and Jason Walker voted to approve the permit.

Last Tuesday, six voted as they did previously.

Little, however, abstained, leaving a 3-3 tie which mayor Lynn Spruill broke in support of approving the permit.

If the test before the aldermen was whether they would uphold the oath they swore upon taking office, it is clear that Carver, Perkins and Vaughn, by their votes, failed to meet that standard. Again. The First and 14th Amendments, which guarantee citizens the right to peaceably assemble and equal protection under the law, make it clear the vote to deny the parade permit with providing a compelling government interest to support the decision, is a violation of the Constitution.

Little's decision to abstain was the one option available that would have allowed the aldermen to avoid breaking their oath.

While we expect our elected officials to follow the law — we are nation of laws, not of men — we also understand that some votes may strike at the heart of deeply held moral beliefs.

Officials often abstain from voting on issues, most often because their vote might constitute a conflict of interest. As citizens, we often abstain, too. We don't go certain places or do certain things, not because it is illegal, but because it conflicts with our beliefs. We may attend the March 24 parade or abstain from attending, for example.

For most elected officials, abstaining on principle is something they rarely feel they need to do. Few matters put before them are questions of whether to follow the law or defy it.

While we have no praise for those who vote to abstain solely to avoid making a difficult or unpopular decision, we do believe there are instances where an official, forced to choose between the law and conscience, chooses to abstain. In those cases, it is the best available option.

At some point between Feb. 20 and that Tuesday evening, Little recognized this.

Regrettably, Carver, Perkins and Vaughn did not.

Online: http://www.cdispatch.com

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Feb. 28

The Neshoba Democrat of Philadelphia on the declining sense of safety at schools:

They seem to have on every, single level missed all of the signs of trouble leading up to the Florida school shooting, but should we be too terribly surprised in a culture of isolation, fatherlessness and political correctness that four deputies would take cover while children are being slaughtered?

Just about any decent human being would have run into that school to save those children. There are no excuses whatsoever. Their liberal ideology stinks.

School safety has rightly become a nationwide concern. Our local schools are taking measures that seem to be in order.

The most common-sense solution is to lock the schoolhouse doors, post armed guards and eliminate these gun-free zones that invite killers.

Sure, we should have meaningful discussions about guns, but those discussions must include one of the root causes of violence, the obliteration of Western culture and Judeo-Christian values by a left-wing political system, not to mention all of the psychotropic medication being prescribed.

To be sure, the issue, more than guns, is about the fatherlessness and the cul-de-sac — or latchkey — isolation many kids face. Kids need community and parental support and our secular culture does not promote that. As a matter of fact, secular culture weakens the family and does not hold it up in high regard, blurring everything from gender to true religion.

There are conservatives who are for reasonable gun reforms, perhaps like tougher background checks and more mental health solutions.

But the anti-gun zealots are out in full force taking advantage of this horrible crisis to push their leftist social agenda.

Meaningful discussions are necessary, but the discussions must include one of the root causes of our problems today, which is the obliteration of Western culture and Judeo-Christian values through a left-wing political agenda that devalues life, especially by actively promoting abortion.

The stripping away of individual liberties in any form is a recipe for failure.

World history reveals that great civilizations decline and fall due to internal erosion, not external invasion.

Online: http://neshobademocrat.com/

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March 4

The Sun Herald of Biloxi on local government agencies charging for public records:

Ever wondered what someone in government is paid — paid with your hard-earned tax dollars? If you intend to find out, you better grab your own wallet.

Such was the case when the Sun Herald asked the city of Moss Point for the salaries of its employees. That's something Moss Point doesn't want you to know.

How do we know? The city wanted us to pay $96.44 to get a simple list of the salaries of the past five chiefs of police and the salary offered Keith Davis. We believe that's the kind of information the mayor and other city officials should know off the top of their heads.

We heard Davis was offered a very attractive salary to bolt from the Department of Marine Resources. He accepted. Then changed his mind. People were talking. Mayor Mario King wasn't.

We don't ask for records for fun. We ask for information we believe our readers want to know. And in the case of local, state and federal governments, we're looking for information to help taxpayers hold officials accountable.

The Sun Herald's Margaret Baker went after the salaries the old-fashioned way. She asked King, who had promised transparency, for them. As CEO of the city, it seems reasonable he would know them or could lay his hands on them without much fuss. He said she would need to fill out a records request. Then the clerk sent her the bill to be paid in advance. It gave no accounting of how the city arrived at the $96.44 figure.

Government bodies are allowed to charge for the cost of researching and retrieving information. But they are not required to charge.

We doubt it cost almost $100 bucks to shout out, "Anyone remember what Chief Friendly used to make?"

We suspect there was no, or little, cost involved. We suspect the charge was designed to keep the information out of the public eye.

When the Sun Herald asked for every salary of every employee in Harrison County, a much longer list (895 lines to be exact), the charge was $60. Harrison County explained the charge for the IT Department to compile the information in a spreadsheet.

When the Sun Herald asked the Hancock County Board of Supervisors for a copy of its agreement with the tourism bureau, it was sent in less than a week with an apology for not getting it quicker. There was no charge.

That's the way government should work.

The argument for the charges is that researching the requests takes time and time is money. And, charges help prevent a government body from being paralyzed by a deluge of requests. The simple answer in the digital era is to put all public records online and — that includes a list of salaries paid by taxpayers.

Most boards do have a web portal of some sort where many records are available. That's commendable. But it's just a start.

Online: http://www.sunherald.com