A New York City group that celebrates Mississippi culture with an annual picnic in Central Park has cancelled the event to protest the Magnolia State's new law allowing businesses to refuse to service to same-sex couples on religious grounds.
The picnic — which features fiddle, banjo, and Delta blues music, foods such as catfish, hushpuppies, fried chicken, art, and other cultural events associated with the state — was set for June 11 and expected to attract more than 5,000 people.
But the Brooklyn-based New York Mississippi Society, which opposes the law, decided to scrap it on Wednesday.
"As a result of the unfortunate adoption of House Bill 1523, we have been informed that several concerned groups in New York City intend to demonstrate in protest of the passage of this law," the group said in a statement
"Due to the controversy, the protests, and our own intensely felt dismay over HB 1523, we deeply regret that the Mississippi Picnic cannot go forward. Our mission back in 1980 was to showcase a positive image of the state of Mississippi."
The annual picnic has celebrated such cultural icons as writer Tennessee Williams, food critic Craig Claiborne, and opera singer Leontyne Price. The theme for this year's event was "Nothing but the Blues," a tribute to blues great B.B. King, who died last May at the age of 89.
"For almost four decades, the [picnic] has consistently celebrated the best of Mississippi, without regard to race, religion, or gender orientation. We took pride in sharing our rich heritage and diversity with the rest of the world through these annual gatherings," the group said.
"Any law such as HB 1523 that discriminates against even a single member of our community cannot be tolerated, and therefore we have decided to stand up for all Mississippians by canceling the 2016 picnic in the park."
Mississippi Gov. Phil Bryant, who signed House Bill 1523 into law last week, said in a statement provided to the Clarion-Ledger newspaper
"I am disappointed we won't be celebrating Mississippi's rich and diverse culture in Central Park this year. I'm confident many New Yorkers feel the same way. I will be happy to participate in the event should organizers revive it in the future."
"The 'Protecting Freedom of Conscience from Government Discrimination Act' allows businesses with 'sincerely held religious beliefs' to refuse services based on religious objections to same-sex marriage, transgender rights, and even extramarital sexual relationships.
It also prevents state employees from being punished for denying services such as issuing same-sex marriage licenses, although the licenses would have to be administered by somebody else.
The Mississippi Development Authority, which helps sponsor the event, told the Clarion-Ledger: "We are disappointed in not only their decision, but also their lack of discussion with Mississippi partners before canceling the event."
The New York Mississippi Society was launched by a small group of native Mississippians living in New York City who wanted to preserve the culture and heritage of their home state.
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