Disingenuous, Brother Gene

"Who executes justice for the oppressed? Who gives food to the hungry? The LORD sets the prisoners free." Psalm 146:7 NIV

When radio talk show host Jim Engster introduced the Louisiana Family Forum’s executive director Rev. Gene Mills as the featured speaker at the January 6th meeting of the Baton Rouge Press Club, he noted that “(Mills) is intricately involved in Louisiana political life.”

And certainly readers of this publication, as well as those who have followed its publisher Lamar White, Jr., in addition to this writer, in prior reporting venues, will be aware of Mills’ determination to dissolve the wall of separation between church and state, in order to impose a theocratic government.

On this most recent occasion, Bro. Gene shared his sentiments on the contest for Louisiana Speaker of the House: He prefers Rep. Sherman Mack (R-Albany) over Rep. Clay Schexnayder (R-Gonzales). Mack has established an overall record of voting in accordance with Louisiana Family Forum policy preferences 95% of the time, while Schexnayder is rated at a mere 75% on the LFF lifetime scoring.

“I predict Mack will have the votes,” Mills said. “I also predict Gov. John Bel Edwards will have to move to the center or center right over this term.”

Ponder that second statement for a moment.

Mills also shared his disappointment that his “good friend” Eddie Rispone lost the governor election, saying he had taken the construction magnate to the Angola Prison Rodeo. Mills claimed he’d personally witnessed Rispone “with tears in his eyes when inmates shared their stories of how prison ministry programs had changed their hearts.”

On the other hand, Gov. Edwards has allegedly refused to go with Bro. Gene to the Angola Rodeo, “even though we offered to bring over the biggest, baddest bull from Texas and let Gov. Edwards ride it out at the start of the show,” he claimed, with an edgy laugh.

Asked for a list of his organization’s policy “wants” for the legislative session that begins March 9th, Mills was light on specifics, saying he’s “going to be holding statewide townhall meetings” over the next couple of months, in order to formalize LFF’s agenda, and until that process is complete, “it’s difficult to know.”

“I believe that principles need to prevail and can rule the day, and the best ideas can come from any number of sources. So we ought to be open in communication” he said. “Yet there are some issues that are non-negotiable. The issue of life is one of those.”

Rev. Mills did devote considerable time to the issue wherein his ostensibly nonprofit organization has seen considerable success in its lobbying of the legislature to restrict access to, and affordability of, abortions. He lauded the amicus brief LFF had filed last week in support of the state laws enacted in 2014, including the admitting privileges rule.

The U.S. Supreme Court will hear oral arguments about the constitutionality of those laws, which narrow access to medically-safe abortions almost to the point of impossibility for the procedures to be done anywhere in Louisiana, on March 4th. The case is titled June Medical Services, LLC v. Gee, and Mills vowed to be in D.C. “to support Louisiana’s Attorney General in defense of our laws.”

Despite the fact that the Louisiana Family Forum’s amicus brief supports the side of the case named for her, Bro. Gene couldn’t resist delivering a bit of snark aimed at Louisiana Health Secretary Dr. Rebekah Gee, whose upcoming end-of-month resignation had been announced earlier that very day.

“Maybe she resigned because of this,” Mills said, noting that he had been troubled by her nomination to the post four years ago “because of her past involvement with Planned Parenthood.” But he also acknowledged that Gee was “brought in primarily to oversee the Medicaid expansion” and that it was a task she had “done successfully.”

Hearkening back to Mills’ prior statement regarding “the issue of life,” as the LFF director was queried about his stance on state Attorney General Jeff Landry’s continuing hawkishness toward restarting executions, especially as this week marks a full decade since Louisiana last enacted the death penalty. (The problem has been access to the specific drugs state law requires be used for lethal injections.)

“I’m not a cheerleader for the death penalty, but I don’t support abolishing it,” he said. “I believe in what the Bible says in Genesis: ‘Whoever sheds man’s blood, by man his blood shall be shed’. I think we need to limit the appeals of those who have received that as a sentence.”

Reflect on that, please, compared with Rev. Mills’ assertion that “the issue of life” is “non-negotiable.”

Perhaps he feels that restricting appeals over a death sentence is tantamount to non-negotiation? Unfortunately, that still leaves the contradiction between believing in an absolute “right to life” for the unborn, and the rightness of sentencing someone to death, unresolved.

Gene mills, lower left, at October 2016 Criminal Justice Reinvestment Task Force meeting. Screenshot by Sue Lincoln.

Brother Gene, who served on the Louisiana Criminal Justice Reinvestment Task Force legislatively established in 2016, was also asked whether more reforms toward reducing Louisiana’s incarceration rate were in the offing in the 2020 legislative session.

“As you know, we are back at number one for our incarceration rate, since Oklahoma made changes in their laws,” he said, and then veered off to laud the proliferation of chapels within the prison system.

“We need to change their hearts,” he said, referring to those serving time for their crimes.

Entrance to ICE detention center, Jena, Louisiana. Courtesy LaSalle Corrections, Inc.

Following the luncheon presentation, I asked Rev. Mills for his thoughts on the burgeoning population of immigrant detainees being held in Louisiana’s privately-run prisons, and whether the various prison ministries were endeavoring to monitor humane conditions, including worship opportunities for the detainees.

“I am unaware of that,” he said. ‘But I will ask Secretary LeBlanc about it.”

I endeavored to explain that, because these people were being held under federal laws in what are essentially for-profit prisons, the state’s Department of Corrections has no true jurisdiction.

“Again, I am unaware, and will have to look into that,” Mills said.

It’s not surprising that the Louisiana Family Forum director might not be a regular reader of Mother Jones, and so may have missed that publication’s excellent continuing coverage of the immigrant detainees issues. In particular, there is the July 2019 report that ICE was increasing the numbers of facilities and detainees, particularly in Louisiana, from approximately 2000 in January 2017, to in excess of 10,000 by mid-2019. And there’s also the December 2019 map showing immigrant detainees are being held in at least 11 facilities in Louisiana, nearly all owned or managed by for-profit companies.

It’s less likely that Rev. Mills may have missed PBS News Hour’s coverage of an Associated Press investigation of immigrant detention centers in Louisiana this past October, or USA TODAY Network’s pre-Christmas look at the profitability or their analysis of incident reports at immigrant detention centers.

It’s even more improbable that Bro. Gene didn’t catch the positively-spun report on FoxNews in early November.

Immigrant detainees. Photo courtesy Louisiana ACLU.

But it’s entirely implausible that the head of the Louisiana Family Forum, which has a stated mission “to persuasively present biblical principles in the centers of influence on issues affecting the family through research, communication and networking,” would not not have read or been made aware of a December 6, 2019 opinion article, published in The Advocate, his local paper, which was headlined “Louisiana church leaders: Expanding immigrant detention in Louisiana a tragedy.”

That’s disingenuous, Brother Gene.

Apart from his organization’s self-designation as arbiter of the state’s moral values, as an ordained minister within the Assembly of God denomination, one might certainly expect Rev. Mills to find the proliferation of news reports on the proliferation of and profit on immigrant detainees within this state deeply concerning, and in decided contradiction of “biblical principles.”

And now that he has been made aware of it, is it possible any part of this will be addressed within the Louisiana Family Forum agenda for the 2020 legislative session?

Let us pray.