Ten Commandments, guns and abortion headline legislative session

Monday, March 26, 2012 at 10:05pm

Culture wars are dominating the state legislative session with abortion, the Ten Commandments, guns and creationism all on the agenda in the past week.

Also last week, lawmakers moved toward lifting certain limits on special-interest contributions to elections campaigns despite warnings about the influence of big money in politics.

And the legislature was embarrassed when another lawmaker went to jail — this time Rep. David Hawk, R-Greeneville, was accused of beating his wife. Hawk’s arrest comes five months after Rep. Curry Todd, R-Collierville, was jailed on charges of drunken driving with a loaded gun in his car.

The Ten Commandments bill whisked through the House by a vote of 93-0. It authorizes Tennessee counties to erect monuments to the Ten Commandments in courthouses and on their grounds as part of displays of other historical documents.

Monuments to the Magna Carta, Mayflower Compact, Declaration of Independence, United States Constitution, Bill of Rights, and constitution of the great state of Tennessee are mentioned as possibilities in the House legislation. The idea, not a novel one in battles over monuments across the country, is to get around any constitutional issues of church and state by claiming the Ten Commandments has become so secularized that it’s devoid of religious meaning.

“What we’re trying to do is make sure that no cities and counties have to be intimidated any further by any special interest groups,” said the bill’s sponsor, Rep. Matthew Hill, R-Jonesborough.

As the House voted on the Ten Commandments, the Senate took up what the ACLU has dubbed the new monkey bill. Senators voted 24-8 for legislation that critics say would open the door to the teaching of creationism in public school science classes.

The bill requires schools to “create an environment” in which teachers “respond appropriately and respectfully to differences of opinion” about issues including evolution and global warming.

The eight Tennessee members of the National Academy of Sciences signed a statement opposing the bill.

“As scientists whose research involves and is based upon evolution, we affirm — along with the nation’s leading scientific organizations — that evolution is a central, unifying, and accepted area of science,” the statement said. “The evidence for evolution is overwhelming; there is no scientific evidence for its supposed rivals ‘creation science’ and ‘intelligent design’ and there is no scientific evidence against it,” the statement said.

According to the scientists, the bill “would miseducate students, harm the state’s national reputation, and weaken its efforts to compete in a science-driven global economy.”

Sen. Bo Watson, R-Chattanooga, contended an amendment to his bill should have alleviated the scientists’ concerns. He said the bill merely encourages “critical thinking” by students.

“As may have been mischaracterized by many, this bill does not endorse, promote or allow the teaching of any nonscientific nonconventional theories in the scientific classroom. Students should be encouraged to challenge current scientific thought and theory. Students should be encouraged to debate, to improve their critical thinking skills and to improve their communications skills,” Watson said.

But Tennessee ACLU director Hedy Weinberg said flatly the bill “would gut science education in public schools.” She said Watson’s amendment merely “involves substituting ‘controversy’ with ‘debate’ and ‘disputation.’ ”

“Under the pretext of fostering ‘critical thinking,’ ” Weinberg said, “SB 0893 would ensure that teachers could help students examine alleged ‘strengths’ and ‘weaknesses’ of the theory of evolution and other so-called ‘debatable’ scientific subjects, calling their very validity into question.”

Before going to Gov. Bill Haslam’s desk for his signature, the bill — which passed the House last year — now must return for almost-certain concurrence on Watson’s amendment.

On guns, senators appeared ready to compromise on legislation to let workers keep their firearms locked in their cars in company parking lots. The proposal has drawn strong opposition from Tennessee’s major employers, including FedEx and Volkswagen. They say the bill tramples their private property rights and threatens the safety of all their employees.

Testifying before legislative committees, they have raised the specter of disgruntled or deranged employees or customers grabbing their guns out of their cars and going on shooting sprees.

Sen. Mike Faulk, R-Kingsport, said he was ready to consider changing his bill to conform more closely with House legislation, which would let workers bring firearms into store parking lots and other public lots but not fenced employee-only lots. It covers only workers with state-issued handgun carry permits. Faulk’s bill applies to any legally possessed gun. The governor has said he thinks Faulk’s bill is too broad.

“The amendments will address the concerns about it being too broad that have been expressed by both speakers and the governor,” Faulk told reporters. “And then I believe we’ll be off and running.”

The House Health and Human Resources Committee adopted legislation to restrict abortion rights. It would require doctors who perform abortions in Tennessee to have hospital admitting privileges.

Planned Parenthood of Tennessee immediately denounced the bill. Although most doctors performing abortions in Tennessee have admitting privileges, the proposed new regulation would limit access to the procedure for many women, especially those in rural areas.

“It could have a very chilling effect on women’s ability to access abortion care in some parts of the state,” Planned Parenthood’s Nashville CEO Jeff Teague said.

The bill’s sponsor — also Rep. Hill — said his only thought was for the health and safety of women.

“Why are we doing this?” Rep. Gary Odom, D-Nashville, asked. “We don’t require it for any other procedure that’s done in an ambulatory surgical center.”

“Quite frankly,” Hill replied, “some women have died from complications from abortions. We’ve seen that happen. I don’t want that to happen in Tennessee, and I know you don’t either. We want to make sure we have the safest environment possible. You asked what the bill is about? It’s about safety.”

Originally, Hill proposed to require the state to publish online the names of doctors who perform abortions in Tennessee. He agreed to eliminate that requirement after even some pro-life legislators said they feared it would make physicians vulnerable to attacks from anti-abortion zealots.

“We’re going to change that and take it out because we don’t want to target doctors,” the legislature’s only physician member — Rep. Joey Hensley, R-Hohenwald — told the Chattanooga Times Free Press. “We don’t want to ... have any kind of violence against them. I don’t agree with doctors doing abortions, but certainly we don’t need to make that public so that they’re in danger.”

Over the objections of Democrats, the Senate voted 18-12 to repeal the current limit — $214,400 — on the total amount of money legislators can accept from political action committees during an election cycle.

“Today in our society people are very cynical about government and what we do,” Sen. Andy Berke, D-Chattanooga, said. “They are particularly cynical about the legislature and how decisions are made. As we continue to find more and more ways to allow money into our system, we not only risk the real appearance of corruption but we certainly put everybody at risk for how we are perceived in this body.”

Berke said the bill gives the appearance “that we are only here for the large contributions, that we are only here for the special interests.”

Hawk returned to the legislature last week from jail, where he had been held overnight on a charge of domestic assault. His wife told authorities that he grabbed her by the arm, struck her in the face and knocked her to ground at their home as she held their 11-month-old daughter.

Hawk pleaded not guilty and insisted he is innocent.

“I did not harm my wife. Yesterday morning my wife had a gun and told me she was going to put a bullet in my head while I was holding my baby,” he said, adding that he could not explain the bruises on her face or the cut on her lip.

He relinquished the chairmanship of the House Conservation and Environment Committee. He said in a statement he wants to focus on proving his innocence.

State Democratic Party chairman Chip Forrester demanded Hawk’s resignation from office.

“The Republican Party is faced with a serious crisis of leadership,” Forrester said. “Domestic violence and criminal behavior by anyone — including elected officials — cannot and will not be tolerated by Tennesseans.”    

5 Comments on this post:

By: Ask01 on 3/27/12 at 4:37

It is comforting to know all of this state's other ills have been cured, unemployment is at zero, crime has been eradicated, and we have achieved total social harmony.

Perhaps in an alternate science fiction universe.

In this universe, however, overpaid, underworked, inattentive, uncaring politicians prefer to deal with issues appealing to target groups while ignoring concerns of mainstream Tennesseans.

I propose we remove all these alleged representatives from office so they can devote all their time to pet projects, and replace them with people who will do the people's bidding and actually address real issues.

If the electorate rises up and throws out, en masse, every politician running for re-election, we can create a culture of fear among those remaining.

At the very least, perhaps they would be scared into inaction, unable to do any damage.

By: Moonglow1 on 3/27/12 at 7:56

Moonglow1: These legislators are an abomination. They are ignorant and definitely represent special interests only. Who really cares about erecting the Ten Commandments and where will the money come from. What business would want to re locate here with guns in parking lots and idiots for employees (creationism). And Hawk should be in jail. Does he follow the Ten Commandments?? I notice all of these Republican legislators are Crooks, Drunks, Wife Beaters, Divorced, Haters of Other Religions, Haters of Intellect, and All Around Nut Jobs!!!

Now is there anyone "Normal" who we can elect to represent The People!! The gene pool here is limited. Oh wait. No such thing as genetics. No only the Wrath of God. Actually, God was most likely a space alien just like the Legislative idiots: Spaced Out!!

By: pswindle on 3/27/12 at 9:55

What is hard about understanding the separation of Church and State? The GOP does not know the Constitution from a hole in the ground.

By: gdiafante on 3/27/12 at 10:38

I'm so thrilled that my taxes are paying for these knuckle-draggers to waste time on issues that, in a secular Republic, shouldn't be any of their concern.

Tennessee is an embarassment.

By: Mike Burch on 3/27/12 at 12:33

The first commandment is incompatible with freedom of religion:

Thou shalt have no other gods before me, Jehovah. Other Bible verses make it very clear that no human being has the "right" to believe in any other God. But Washington, Jefferson, Adams and Franklin were enlightened men who didn't believe in the divinity of Christ, and didn't think God is an intolerant monster who tortures human beings for not "believing" in his person, when he chooses to remain hidden. That, of course, would make God a petty, unjust monster.

if there is a God who chooses to remain hidden, he cannot demand human belief without being unjust. If he is unjust and intolerance, why should anyone believe in him>

If the founding fathers had wanted the Ten Commandments to be the basis of American government and law they would have made the Sabbath a national holy day, forbidding all work or at least all unnecessary work. They would have mentioned all ten commandments and the names of Jesus and Jehovah.

Anyone who has actually read the Declaration of Independence and Constitution can see that the founding fathers really did want to keep religion out of government, for the very reasons we're now seeing here in Tennessee, and around the nation. They knew hell and other bizarre ideas were being used to control the beliefs and behavior of orthodox Christians, and they had seen Europe's holy wars and inquisitions, which were the result of an ignorant rabble doing the bidding of cynical autocrats who lusted after money and power.

Now the GOP's cynical autocrats are doing the same thing, and want to make Americans bow down to them, and worship their unjust vision of God.