Separation of Church and state--it's a time honored phrase or at least a paraphrase that comes from the founders of our country.
Many of us like the phrase because it is the right idea, indeed, the correct interpretation of the law, but it doesn't do the work we need it to do in a state like Tennessee.
Many social conservatives know that the phrase never appears in the Constitution itself. They also know that some states had established religions into the 19th Century. Yes, Massachusetts had state supported religion until 1833! And in Tennessee many of them also know that over 50% of the population is Evangelical Protestant. On top of that, I think what religious social conservatives hear when we say "separation of Church and state" is that we're trying to keep Christians out of politics.
And maybe some people do wish that. What I hope we mean when we use the phrase is that we oppose enshrining a particular/majority religion or any religion in law. I hope we mean that law ought to be based on a sense of the common good and the practical needs of the people based on reason and evidence. And how about science, too!
Here's the fact we have to contend with. If you believe in democracy, that means that in Tennessee Evangelical Protestants ARE going to shape the laws of this state. There's just no avoiding it. There are thankfully constitutional limits, but the influence is going to be there for quite some time.
Our task is to shift the discussion to the use of religion to promote discrimination. That strikes me as something that people who are religious and non-religious can talk about together. The lawyers and the judges can and should guide us on the boundaries between religion and government. But we can all, whether we're specialists or not, talk more about the place of discrimination in religion.
I don't think we have to accept the phrase "That's just what I believe" when it comes to using religion to justify discrimination in the public square or in a private business. When actions inspired by your religious beliefs have a public impact, then we actually have a duty to discuss it.
It's the separation of religion and discrimination where we can change the conversation. It recognizes that separation of Church and state isn't enough. If we succeeded in separating Church and state and religion was still being used to promote discrimination, people would continue to suffer.
If you agree, consider endorsing the statement.
And if these issues interest you, consider checking out Jennifer Sheridan's new film project.
The anti-transgender student bathroom bill is personal to me. As a trans man and a recent graduate of Middle Tennessee State University, one of the schools that would be affected by this legislation, I'm outraged.
I have been to Legislative Plaza several times to work against this bill, to tell my story and the story of friends across the state. I have organized against it in Murfreesboro. Sometimes legislators have a breakthrough, sometimes they don't. But I am not deterred because I know that this bill will make life Hell for transgender and gender non-conforming students around the state.
I'm asking you to sign one more petition, regardless of whether you live in Tennessee, urging Governor Haslam to keep listening to those opposed to the bill. It will be part of a multi-organization petition drop next week.
Please, speak out now while there is still time to beat this bill.
TEP Rutherford County Chair
Contact: Chris Sanders, (615) 390-5252 and firstname.lastname@example.org
Nashville, TN--The Tennessee Equality Project condemns House passage of HB1840, also known as Hate Bill 1840 and the Counseling Discrimination bill. We call on Governor Bill Haslam to veto the bill. Citizens can join the call for a veto at this link.
By putting the focus on counselors instead of clients, the bill damages the counseling profession and puts vulnerable clients at risk. We are particularly concerned about rural LGBT people who already have limited access to affirming mental health services.
Opposed by over 50 Tennessee clergy, the bill does not represent the religious freedom it purports to protect.
An anti-bullying amendment that would have protected minors who are victims of bullying was stripped from the bill during a House Health Committee meeting. View TEP's video on the anti-bullying amendment at this link.
By passing a religious refusal bill, the Legislature has opened the door to discrimination in Tennessee and our state could experience the same national wrath that Indiana, North Carolina, and Mississippi are now facing.
TEP thanks the American Counseling Association, the many Tennessee counseling associations, and those state legislators who opposed the bill. In particular, we are grateful to Sen. Jeff Yarbro and Rep. John Ray Clemmons for offering amendments that generated important debate about the bill in an effort to protect the most vulnerable Tennesseans from its consequences.
The Family Action Council, the organization lobbying for the counseling discrimination and the anti-transgender student bathroom bill, is drawing parallels to the Civil War. It's stunning really.
Consider this passage in their April 1 post:
I don’t know how this new “war” will be resolved, but I don’t think it will have to be resolved in the same was as the earlier one. I could be wrong, but I sense there are a lot of people down South who would not mind if the liberals from up North and out West took the advice of their governors and Hollywood moguls, respectively, and decided to stay where they are. The ones among them who want to live in a place that has enough common sense to keep men out of women’s restrooms will just keep migrating to the South.
Now we know why they're fighting so hard against us. They are trying to preserve a South that never was, a South without LGBT people or those who support us. Who even says things like "stay where they are" these days?
There is another South that you and I know. It's a South where mothers testify at Legislative Plaza for their transgender children and transgender students themselves tell legislators about their lives. It's a South where same-sex couples are at last able to protect themselves and their children through marriage. It's a South where clergy are beginning to speak out against hate, where they are resisting the use of religion to keep others down.
I'll take that South and I know you will, too. It will take work to build it as the hateful structures continue to tumble down.
Win or lose this week in the Legislature, we are going to prevail because love wins. Help us move the message of love and acceptance at this link with your support.
Tennessee clergy are speaking out against HB1840, known as Hate Bill 1840, with the following statement:
"As faith leaders and clergy serving people in Tennessee, we urge the Tennessee House of Representatives to reject House Bill 1840, which allows counselors to turn clients away based on the counselor's religious beliefs. Those seeking counseling deserve the highest standard of care and we believe the American Counseling Association's code of ethics provides that standard."
Rev. Emily Reeves Grammer, Nashville
Rev. Dr. Bruce W. Spangler, Knoxville
Rev. Michael Williams, Nashville
Rev. Adam Kelchner, Nashville
Rev. Tim Kobler, Knoxville
Rev. Nancy Speas Hill, Franklin
Bishop Melvin G. Talbert, retired, The United Methodist Church, Hermitage
Rev. Allison Hancock, Memphis
Rev. Deven Hazelwood, Johnson City
Rev. Pamela Hawkins, Nashville
Rev. Eric Posa, Memphis
Rabbi Josh Barton, Nashville
Rev. William (Will) Berger, Franklin
Rev. Laura Bogle, Maryville
Rev. Bryan Currie, Nashville
Jon Coffee, ministerial candidate, Knoxville
Rev. Cynthia Andrews-Looper, Memphis
Rev. V. Jill Sizemore, Knoxville
Rev. Ken Carroll, Chattanooga
Rev. Andrew B. Ward, Goodlettsville
Rev. Orisha Bowers, Memphis
Rev. Paul Slentz, Nashville
Rev. Steve Wolf, Clarksville
Rev. William Warren, Germantown
Rev. John A Smith, Nashville
Rev. Byron Forester, Memphis
Rev. Steven Shelton, Bartlett
Rev. Lisa Anderson, Memphis
Rev. Mark Brown, Memphis
Rev. Dr. Gillian Marie Klee, Memphis
Rev. Ruth Lovell Bradham, Cordova
Rev. Anne Fraley, Lebanon
Rev. James C. Pappas III, Fayetteville
Rev. Dorothy Chatham Hartzog, retired Episcopal priest, Clarksville
Rev. Mark C. Pafford, Cookeville
Rev. Michael Alford, Nashville
Rev. Lisa Gwock, Nashville
Rev. Joey Reed, OSL, Jackson
Rev. Kira Schlesinger, Lebanon
Pastor Tommy Artist, Johnson City
Bishop Charles Headley, Jefferson City
Rev. Cheryl Cornish, Memphis
Rev. John Burruss, Memphis
Barney Self, Ed.D., LMFT, Pastoral Counseling Minister and President of TNAMFT, Forest Hills
Bishop Patrick Potts, Johnson City
Rabbi Shana Goldstein Mackler, Nashville
Rev. Eric S. Greenwood, Jr., Nashville
Rev. Eugene J. Bolton, Nashville
Cantor Tracy L. Fishbein, Nashville
Rev. Greg Bullard, Madison
Rev. Renee Dillard, Memphis
Rev. Kevin Mitchell, Murfreesboro
If you are a member of the clergy serving people in Tennessee and would like to sign the statement, contact us with your name and city at email@example.com .
A guest post by Brendon Holloway, TEP Rutherford County Committee Chair
Transgender Day of Visibility is about more than just being visible; it is about fighting for social justice for transgender individuals in the community and at state and federal levels. It is about being visible on a social and political platform. It is about making your voice heard. How can a transgender person make a difference in politics? Be visible. Be visible in your community (if you can, of course) and be visible to your elected officials.
During the holiday season, a Republican representative from my hometown was hinting at proposing an anti-trans bathroom bill. In response, I emailed him and we met for coffee the day after Christmas. He saw me for who I was and he respected that. For the first time, he sat down with a transgender man and heard the other side of the story. After meeting up several times, he completely backed away from the anti-trans bathroom bill and admitted that he had no idea of the hardships trans people face. He said that he would have never understood a trans person’s perspective if we hadn’t met for coffee. I understand that most politicians aren’t as open-minded as he was, but sometimes being visible and speaking up will open ones mind.
Shortly before this, I met up with my mayor regarding an LGBTQ rally. We spoke about having a rally at the courthouse in Murfreesboro and what legal steps I should take to be able to do so. Although he wasn’t open to the idea of an indoor rally, he said an outdoor rally would be appropriate. If I didn’t speak with him professionally and let my personal identity show, then I’m not sure if he would’ve been so receptive. When it comes to lawmakers and elected officials, sometimes they just need to see that you are a real person. The same goes for the pronoun issue at the University of Tennessee – Knoxville. When UTK’s Office for Diversity and Inclusion posted a gender-neutral pronoun chart, our lawmakers immediately jumped on it. Without hesitation, I went to Legislative Plaza and met with a few senators who would be hearing the issue. Although their minds didn’t instantly change, they were open to discussing the issue and learning more about it and offered to meet with me later in the week. Engaging with elected officials is important and being visible can make a difference politically.
Transgender Day of Visibility is a day of empowerment for our trans brothers, sisters, friends, and family. Today is a day for us to stand up and show that we can make a difference, too. I have been spending much of my time on Capitol Hill in Nashville for the past year trying to make a difference in the LGBTQ community, especially for the trans community. I’ve changed minds, hearts, and learned how to be a political activist while also staying true to my identity and who I am. Today is a day for us to be recognized but every day is a day for us to be visible.
And it never ends.
A mini-RFRA is on notice for the House Civil Justice Subcommittee on March 23. HB2375 by Rep. Holt says that clergy can't be required to marry someone if marrying that someone violates their religious beliefs. It adds that facilities controlled by a religious organization can't be forced to participate or be used for a wedding that conflicts with a sincerely held religious belief. Refusal of services can't be punished with a civil action or criminal charges or any other state sanction.
The bill seems pretty redundant given the First Amendment to the Constitution.
Also on notice in the same subcommittee for the same day is another bill by Rep. Holt, is HB2508, which is a marriage caption bill. We'll see whether he runs it and what he fills it in with.
Stay alert for updates.
March 13, 2016
Contact: Chris Sanders, (615) 390-5252, firstname.lastname@example.org
Nashville, TN--The Tennessee General Assembly's House Civil Justice Subcommittee is set to consider HB2379 on Wednesday at 3:00. The bill by Rep. Micah VanHuss limits the persons who may solemnize marriage to ministers, pastors, rabbis, priests, and other spiritual leaders and removes all existing authorization for public officials in official capacity to solemnize marriage.
"Sadly some legislators are taking their opposition to the Supreme Court's Obergefell v. Hodges marriage ruling to the extreme," noted TEP executive director Chris Sanders. "This bill would actually have the effect of making it harder for different-sex couples to get married. Many couples are not religious or one prospective spouse may not be. Many couples are of different religions and may not wish to show preference to one of their faith traditions by picking a member of the clergy. From a practical and a constitutional point of view, the bill is a disaster."
More than 400 people have expressed opposition to the bill so far at this link: https://ujoin.org/campaigns/110/actions/public?action_id=105 .
SPEAK UP FOR LGBT PEOPLE! CONTRIBUTE TO OUR FIGHT BACK FUND HERE!
Several anti-LGBT bills are on notice the week of March 15 in the Legislature. So we are calling on advocates across the state to help with Rolling Back the Hate Days on the Hill on March 15 and March 16. You don't have to be there both days. You can come for an hour or stay the whole time. But RSVP here. TEP will have an information table both days outside the cafeteria in Legislative Plaza.
So which attack bills are up for consideration?
1. HB2414/SB2387 is up in the House Education Administration and Planning Subcommittee on March 15 at 3:00 p.m. in Legislative Plaza Room 29. This bill attacks transgender students in public K-12 and higher education institutions. It is also up in the Senate Education Committee on March 16 at 1:00 in Room 12. You can contact the House subcommittee at this link and urge them to vote NO. RSVP for the House subcommittee meeting here. You can contact the Senate Education Committee about the bill at this link.
2. HB1840 known as the Counseling Discrimination bill is up in the House Health Committee on March 16 at 1:30 in Room 16. This bill has already passed the Senate.
3. HB2379 is up in the House Civil Justice Subcommittee at 3:00 on March 16 at 3:00 in Room 31. This bill limits those who can solemnize marriages to clergy. In other words, if you want to get married in Tennessee, you would have to get a religious leader to perform the ceremony if this bill passes. The constitutional issue is certainly a talking point, but it would be better to beat the bill before a law like this had to go to the courts for a challenge. So I understand that the bill would have problems in court, but let's try to prevent it from becoming law in the first place. You can tell the subcommittee to oppose the bill at this link.
*If you want to help organize next week or get appointments with key legislators, respond to me at email@example.com with your county of residence. We will prep you for your meetings.
If you would like to invest in our work of fighting anti-equality legislation, you can give here.
Yesterday the House Health Subcommittee recommended passage of HB1840, the Counseling Discrimination bill, with another amendment. This one differs from the Senate amendments. It substitutes "principles" for "religious beliefs." It's bad that the bill is advancing. But if it must advance, it is good that it got amended in a way that differs from the Senate version of the bill that passed recently. To become law, Senate and House versions have to be identical.
We got more time on HB2414, the anti-transgender student bathroom bill yesterday when the House Education Administration and Planning Subcommittee couldn't get to it. If they had, it probably would have passed.
#TnHate week continues today with SB1912, a bill to take funding away from UT-Knoxville diversity efforts and divert them to putting "In God We Trust" on law enforcement vehicles.