In a rare entrance into a politically charged controversy, first lady Michelle Obama used a commencement speech Saturday at Jackson State University in Mississippi to directly target the state’s recently-passed "religious freedom" bill.
"We see it right here in Mississippi -- just two weeks ago -– how swiftly progress can hurtle backward," Obama said. "How easy it is to single out a small group and marginalize them because of who they are or who they love."
Obama made the comment following an impassioned revival of the state and university's stained history with regard to civil rights.
"So we've got to stand side by side with all our neighbors –- straight, gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender; Muslim, Jew, Christian, Hindu immigrant, Native American -- because the march for civil rights isn't just about African Americans, it's about all Americans," she said. "It's about making things more just, more equal, more free for all our kids and grandkids. That's the story you all have the opportunity to write. That's what this historic university has prepared you to do."
The state has received growing criticism from human rights organizations and businesses over the controversial law, saying it restricts the rights of the LGBT community. In a press conference Friday in the United Kingdom, President Obama was asked about a recent travel advisory to British LGBT citizens cautioning them of the newly passed law, he said it "should be overturned."
In her speech, the first lady also reflected on the heated political battles her husband has endured as president, and urged students not to fall into disarray over the "anger and vitriol" in the political environment.
"We pay endless attention to folks who are blocking action, blocking judges, blocking immigration, blocking a raise in the minimum wage. Just blocking," Obama said. "We are consumed with the anger and vitriol that are bubbling up, with folks shouting at each other, using hateful and divisive language."
Obama then revisited some of the vitriol directed towards her husband over his eight years as president, including the "birther" conspiracy theory widely promoted by GOP frontrunner Donald Trump just five years ago.
"And then there's the countless times when that language gets personal and is directed at my husband –- charges that he doesn't love our country," Obama said. "The time he was called a liar in front of a joint session of Congress. The nonstop questions about his birth certificate and his belief in God."