General Assembly preps for another round of cultural battles

Sunday, January 22, 2012 at 10:53pm

Culture warriors are on the offensive in the opening days of this year’s legislative session, much to the chagrin of Republican leaders who hoped to avoid controversy in advance of the fall elections.

Gun enthusiasts are demanding another expansion of their rights and threatening political reprisals against lawmakers who stand in their way, and social conservatives are pushing measures to beat back what they see as a homosexual threat to society.

On the agenda again this year is the “Don’t Say Gay” bill, which drew international attention to Tennessee last session and cleared the Senate in watered-down form. 

The original version made it illegal for teachers to discuss homosexuality in the classroom before the ninth grade. Senators amended it to allow only the teaching of “natural human reproduction science” in public schools. Democrats argued the amendment actually liberalizes state law, which now makes it a misdemeanor to teach any kind of sex education before the ninth grade. The bill’s critics say they still fear it will stop teachers from speaking to students about the bullying of gay teens.

Nashville high school students last year made regular trips to the Capitol to demonstrate against the bill, chanting “It’s OK to say gay!” Protesters planned to return last week as a House subcommittee was scheduled to take up the proposal for the first time. But the sponsor, Rep. Joey Hensley, R-Hohenwald, postponed the debate.

Another social conservative measure attracting publicity early this session is the bill by Rep. Richard Floyd, R-Chattanooga, to make it illegal for transgender people to enter a public bathroom not designated for use by the gender on their birth certificate.

“I’m just sick and tired of society having to adjust to every little alternate lifestyle or little whim of someone who thinks they’re different,” Floyd said. “We’ve got the tail wagging the dog. If things go in the future like Washington wants them to go, people will be marrying their dogs and cats and horses. We can’t continue to let society go down a slippery slope of depravity and survive as a society. We can’t do it.”

His proposal drew quick outrage in the GLBT community.

“If anything, it’s making us a laughingstock,” said Marisa Richmond, lobbyist for the Tennessee Transgender Political Coalition. “We’re talking about harassing people who are taking care of a basic biological function, and that’s all this does.”

But if Floyd was defiant, his Senate sponsor — Bo Watson, R-Chattanooga — was taken aback by the sudden publicity and quickly withdrew the companion bill from consideration.

Also generating Internet buzz is a Christian right-backed bill to create an exception to the state’s anti-bullying law for schoolchildren who are expressing religious views.

The Family Action Council of Tennessee, which has made the bill a top priority, denies it would lead to more bullying of gay students.

“I can’t think of anyone who holds to true Christianity that finds it appropriate to slur people and justify it as consistent with their Christianity,” said FACT’s David Fowler.

But Chris Sanders of the Tennessee Equality Project, the state’s main gay rights organization, has denounced Fowler’s bill as “the License to Bully Act.”

“If made into law, FACT would give students a ‘license to bully’ that allows them to hide their irrational biases behind an extreme religious belief,” Sanders said.

The proposal is all the more outrageous to gay people because it comes only a month after the suicide of Jacob Rogers, a gay teen in Cheatham County.

For their part, gun lovers are angry at House Speaker Beth Harwell and her Republican supporters for refusing to expand Second Amendment rights despite the party’s large majority in the legislature. In an alert to supporters, the Tennessee Firearms Association denounced Harwell as an opponent of gun rights. The association went so far as to equate her to Jimmy Naifeh, the old bull of the legislature who was vilified by conservatives when he was speaker during Democratic rule.

“[W]hat should firearms owners and 2nd Amendment supporters expect from the General Assembly in 2012 — nothing, nothing at all. Since 1995, legislative progress on firearms issues could prove ultimately to be worse with a Republican governor and Beth Harwell as speaker of the House (and those in the caucus who support her) than in any year in which the House was controlled by Speaker Jimmy Naifeh and Democratic leadership.”

In its alert, the association accused Harwell of threatening to retaliate against lawmakers who push new gun laws. “One must wonder to what extent the pro-2nd Amendment legislators are being suppressed by ‘suggestions’ of future consequences coming from the Speaker’s office,” the association said before issuing its own threat.

“Pay close attention in 2012. Tennessee conservatives, firearms owners, 2nd Amendment supporters are now faced with vetting out the disingenuous and making sure that their actions are recalled when its time to raise money, campaign and vote. In particular, Harwell and a few others in leadership may be hard to defeat in an election but those in the caucus who voted to put them in power and who support them in power may be much easier targets. ... ”

The legislature adopted guns-in-bars and expansions of Second Amendment rights in the last General Assembly. But after helping the GOP gain absolute control of the legislature in the 2010 elections, the gun lobby has been getting the cold shoulder. They want the right to carry handguns on college campuses and in city and county parks. As the law stands now, local governments can ban guns in their parks.

Legislative leaders, even including the gun rights champion Ron Ramsey, have dismissed the need for new laws. Lawmakers are worried the media will paint the GOP as extreme on the issue, putting off independent voters who expect state leaders to focus on improving the economy.

Rep. Matthew Hill, R-Jonesboro, and Sen. Mike Bell, R-Riceville, are certain to draw publicity with their legislation authorizing counties to erect monuments to the Ten Commandments in courthouses and on their grounds.

In a long line of cases beginning in 1946, the Supreme Court has barred state-endorsed public displays of religious symbols or acts. The question has been whether the government appears to be endorsing one religion over another or any religion over atheism. In the case of monuments to the Ten Commandments, the answer has been consistently yes.

Proponents of the monuments have tried to get around these rulings by surrounding the Ten Commandments with other monuments. Monuments to the Magna Carta, Mayflower Compact, Declaration of Independence, United States Constitution, Bill of Rights, and the constitution of the great state of Tennessee are mentioned as possibilities in Hill’s legislation. The idea, not a novel one in battles over monuments across the country, is to claim that the Ten Commandments have become so secularized that they are devoid of religious meaning.

18 Comments on this post:

By: Kosh III on 1/23/12 at 5:04

So much for being "focused like a laser on jobs" The true goal of the GOP seems to be a theocratic fascist one party state.

By: spooky24 on 1/23/12 at 5:18

This reminds me of the OJ trial when after 4 days of sidebar arguments in which they were trying to decide if the moon was 'waxing or waning' on the evening of the crime Judge Ito said " I can't believe we have sunk to this level of nothingness"

This whole argument is meaningless nothingness. Every single child in America once they reach the age of 5 or 6 and can move a computer mouse, sees every type of deplorable sex act they want to see. Sooner or later allowing children complete access to porn of all kinds will come back to haunt society
Yet we spend time worrying about saying the word 'Gay" to a 12 year old.. Every single 10 year old know what MILF stands for-ask on if you don't believe me
Just a stupid argument

sp.

By: joe41 on 1/23/12 at 8:19

I was hoping this legislature would be different, focusing on those things important to Tennessee and not their own little fetishes.
Joe

By: pswindle on 1/23/12 at 10:35

I can't believe that TN has come to this. Do we not live in the the country of the free? This new so call majority started taking our rights away from day one. I just wish TN had the backbone of WI and get in there and fight for our rights that were given to us by the constitution.

By: Ingleweird on 1/23/12 at 11:57

@joe + pswindle:
Really? Wishful thinking on your part. I could see this BS from miles away.

By: localboy on 1/23/12 at 12:05

"“One must wonder to what extent the pro-2nd Amendment legislators are being suppressed by ‘suggestions’ of future consequences coming from the Speaker’s office,”" We're all pro-2nd Amendment supporters, quit trying to hijack it. Time to find a new tagline.

By: Little Dummy on 1/23/12 at 1:24

There is no such thing as sex between two people of the same gender. It is nothing
but perversion and such people are not "gays" but "Perverts". Plain and simple.

By: 1kenthomas on 1/23/12 at 1:25

"Social Conservatives?"

You mean the "stir up as much hatred as we can, to obscure that we can't do anything else" crowd.

It's time someone formed a Legislative Caucus to focus identifiying such individuals and insuring that they don't get re-elected.

By: rawhide on 1/23/12 at 9:23

Liberals would sure like conservatives to cede the culture war. Sorry. But which of these proposals is flatly unreasonable and not supported by a majority of Tennesseans?

By: govskeptic on 1/24/12 at 7:03

It would appear there is a difference in the urban versus suburbans in
our good state. What a surprise, especially to the "enlightened" ones
that gather at Starbucks and around MSNBC for political guidance.

By: Moonglow1 on 1/24/12 at 7:22

Moonglow 1: What is the definition of a "true Christian?" It is a Tennessee Legislator who: 1. Hates gays 2. Has an intense fear of mating with cats & dogs 3. Takes the term "raining cats & dogs" literally as a sign from the Creator that a New World Order is coming. 4. Hates fat kids (pro Bullying). 5. License to kill (pro gun) as opposed to Love Thy Neighbor. 6. Hates Obama due to his race.

Yes the above is an accurate description of a "True Christian" as defined in Tennessee and as embodied by our legislators.

Now, where do Butts & Beavers stand. Last year those two "True Christians" were focused on the Aqua Net climate change experiment and Obama's long form birth certificate. Now those topics should jump start the jobs program. Ha, ha

All kidding aside: let's be clear. The Tea Republicans who are in power have no intention of creating jobs. They expect the masses to have no rights and to work for minimum wage or die in more senseless wars (their form of population control). Yes the nature of a "True Christian." I can feel the love.

By: BigPapa on 1/24/12 at 7:49

Really disappointing. The GOP finally gets to be the majority party and they waste time, money and energy on silly idiotic stuff like this.

Guess we really aren't that far from The Scopes Trial after all.

By: Moonglow1 on 1/24/12 at 7:56

Moonglow1: Perhaps the monkey's have mutated and are in charge of the Tennessee legislature.

By: Left-of-Local on 1/24/12 at 9:21

Hey, TN! Aren't you GLAD we have the GOP to look out for the real issues? When will you all learn?

By: pswindle on 1/24/12 at 4:27

Haslam will do away with the Estate Tax to protect his own. How stupid do they think TN is? In four years no one will be able to recognize TN. We will be on the bottom of every list. We will be broke and we can thank Bill, Ron and Beth. How shameful that these three people have been given this kind of power.

By: acluu on 1/24/12 at 9:34

Currently, our State Justices are illegal, our legislators must do what’s right and uphold the State’s Constitution as they were “sworn” to do.
As of 2010, the justices of the Tennessee Supreme Court were:

Gary R. Wade
Knox County, Tennessee
(Phil Bredesen)

Cornelia A. Clark
Franklin, Tennessee
(Phil Bredesen)

Sharon Gail Lee
Knoxville, Tennessee
(Phil Bredesen)

Janice M. Holder
Canonsburg, Pennsylvania
(Don Sundquist)

William C. Koch, Jr.
Honolulu, Hawaii
(Phil Bredesen)

According to the Tennessee Constitution, “The judges of the Supreme Court shall be elected by the qualified voters of the State.” Judges on the “inferior courts,” according to the state’s constitution, “shall be elected by the qualified voters of the district or circuit to which they are to be assigned.”
It also says the governor, or any other constitutionally recognized government official, must “take an oath to support the Constitution of this state.”
The State Supreme Justices that we currently have in place are illegal according to the Tennessee Constitution. § 3. Supreme court judges
“The Judges of the Supreme Court shall be elected by the qualified voters of the State. The Legislature shall have power to prescribe such rules as may be necessary to carry out the provisions of section two of this article. Every Judge of the Supreme Court shall be thirty-five years of age, and shall before his election have been a resident of the State for five years. His term of service shall be eight years”.

We (Tennesseans) hope our legislators will do what’s right, do it for the people and do it for Tennessee.

By: NewYorker1 on 1/25/12 at 2:21

"and social conservatives are pushing measures to beat back what they see as a homosexual threat to society."

WOW!!! A reminder that I'm in the south. Spare me the Bull S_ _ _. All these so-called Christian conservatives are so hilarious to me. They are the first ones with their legs up and they got the nerves. All these married, so-called straight, men running around here cheating on their wives with other men afraid to be who you really are. I know too many DL men that's got their church members and wives fooled.

Ladies, if you suspect your man is DL, guess what, he probably is girl.

And don't get me started on these money hungry churches. Most of the people sitting up in church are the same ones that will bust hell wide open. They are some of the dirtiest, nastiest, and horrible people I know. Stay out of these churches. God gave you a brain, stay at home and read your own bible. It's cheaper and less drama.

By: brrrrk on 1/27/12 at 12:03

As far as extremist social conservatives are concerned, I say give them enough rope and they will eventually hang themselves. The tipping point is in sight..... it's called the next generation.