religion & politics

‘Monkey trial’ controversy revisited over statute at Rhea County courthouse

June Griffin, veteran Christian conservative activist perhaps best known for leading a generally successful crusade to post the Ten Commandments on Tennessee courthouses, is now leading opposition to plans to erect a statute of Clarence Darrow at the Rhea County courthouse, reports the Times-Free Press.

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Muslim group opposes Green as Army secretary

News release from Council on American-Islamic Relations

(WASHINGTON, D.C., 4/12/17) – The Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), the nation’s largest Muslims civil rights and advocacy organization, today announced its opposition to the confirmation of Mark E. Green as President Trump’s new Army secretary because of his past Islamophobic statements.

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House panel flip-flops on God & liberty resolution

The House Civil Justice Subcommittee, which in early March rejected a proposal to include a declaration  that God is the source of all liberty, has changed its mind in April.

The panel on Wednesday revived the measure by Rep. Micah Van Huss, R-Jonesborough, (HJR37) and approved it on voice vote. The move came after a motion to reconsider was filed by Rep. Martin Daniel, R-Knoxville, who voted against the measure on March 1 and for it on the second try.

If the proposal is ultimately approved – a long process that would take years – this language would be added to the Tennessee Constitution:

“We recognize that our liberties do not come from governments, but from almighty God.”

Kustoff’s first bill: Combating Anti-Semitism Act

Freshman Congressman David Kustoff is looking to send a message about the importance of religious freedom with the filing of his first piece of legislation, reports Michael Collins.

“Religious intolerance,” he said, “is not accepted.”

Kustoff’s bill, which the West Tennessee Republican introduced last week with Rep. Derek Kilmer, D-Wa., was inspired by the recent spate of bomb threats at Jewish Community Centers across the country, including one in Nashville.

The Combating Anti-Semitism Act would increase the federal penalty for making bomb threats and other credible threats of violence against community religious centers. It also would enable authorities to prosecute such acts as a hate crime.

Kustoff, of Germantown, approaches the issue with a perspective shaped by his profession and religion.

He’s a former federal prosecutor. He served two years as the U.S. attorney for West Tennessee. He’s also one of only two Jewish Republicans in the House. 

“Frankly, it wouldn’t matter what my religion is,” Kustoff said, explaining his motivation for the bill. “The government has to send a message that these threats and these actions won’t be tolerated, and they will be prosecuted. If someone breaks the law, they can go to prison for a long time.”

Note: The Kustoff press release on the bill is HERE.  A  separate press release on the brief floor speech he made in support of the measure is HERE.

Mandatory ‘In God We Trust’ license plates deemed unconstitutional, expensive

Attorney General Herbert Slatery says a law requiring all Tennessee vehicle license plates to bear the slogan “In God We Trust” would be “constitutionally suspect,” but making such plates available as an option – as several states already do – would be OK.

As filed, HB26 by Sen. Bill Sanderson, R-Kenton, and Sen. Paul Bailey, R-Sparta, declares that “all registration plates issued or renewed” starting July 1 must include the phrase, which is also a national motto.

The legislature’s Fiscal Review Committee had earlier said in a “fiscal note” that the mandate would cost the Department of Safety about $19.6 million. As filed, the bill says all plates must bear the phrase once current inventory is used, making no provision for issuing an annual decal – as opposed to a new plate – as is now the case.  The cost would be about $3.31 per plate, says the fiscal note.

Under the attorney general opinion reasoning, it appears both the high fiscal note and the constitutional questions would be eliminated by making “In God We Trust” available to those getting a license plate and paying the fees, but not requiring it.

Such an amendment may be expected when the bill comes up in committee – and the legislative website says it’s on notice in both the Senate Transportation Committee and the House Transportation Subcommittee on Wednesday.

The full nine-page AG opinion is HERE. (A previous post, HERE)

House sub sinks constitutional amendment giving God credit for liberty

A proposed amendment to the Tennessee constitution declaring that God is the source of liberty failed on a tie vote in the House Civil Justice Subcommittee Wednesday, reports the Associated Press.

HJR37, sponsored by Rep. Micah Van Huss, R-Jonesborough, would have inserted this sentence into the state constitution: “We recognize that our liberties do not come from governments, but from Almighty God.”

Under House rules, a measure must receive a majority of positive votes to advance. The defeat came on a voice vote, according to the legislative website, with three Republican members – Reps. Mike Carter of Ooltewah, Andrew Farmer of Sevierville and Debra Moody of Tiptonville – having themselves recorded as voting yes.

Amending the state constitution is a lengthy process in Tennessee. Proposed changes must pass by a majority in both chambers during one two-year General Assembly, and then pass by at last two-thirds of the vote in the next. To amendment would then go before the voters in the year of the next gubernatorial election.

Business bill pits local governments against Christian conservatives

Legislation that prohibits state and local governments from taking discriminatory action against a business on the basis of the company’s  internal policies has been sidetracked in the state Senate amid some controversy..

City and county governments have voiced concerns about the measure, reports The Tennessean.

Roger Campbell, chairman of the policy/legislative committee for the Tennessee City Management Association, said…  “People were surprised by it, saying why is it needed, why is it coming so soon in the session,” Campbell said.

Campbell, the city manager in Maryville, said he and others are concerned about what could result if the measure is passed.

“We could be in court constantly over something,” he said.

On the other side, the Senate move last week sending the bill from the floor back to a committee has prompted an  “action alert” from the state’s largest Christian conservative organization, which is lobbying for the measure.

In an email Friday to supporters and Christian activists, the Family Action Council of Tennessee said SB127 “would protect private businesses from having cities and liberal elected officials meddle in their personnel and employee benefit policies.

“The state should not allow liberal elected officials or liberal cities to discriminate against a business owner because he or she does not provide abortion coverage to employees or provide special legal rights based on sexual orientation/gender identity!,” says the “action alert” urging people to call members of the Senate State and Local Government Committee and push for a “yes” vote.

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Sen. Beavers: Muslims infiltrating churches for Bible Belt jihad

At a Macon County town hall meeting Thursday, state Sen. Mae Beavers said that Muslim terrorists are infiltrating churches and planning a jihad in the Bible Belt, reports The Tennessean. Subsequently, she told the newspaper some of her information “was not entirely accurate.”

The Wilson County lawmaker had an exchange with a woman who said that she knew a local Muslim family and they were good people and “wouldn’t hurt anybody,” but there were some who were “adamant” about harmful acts.

In an audio recording of the town hall obtained by The Tennessean, Beavers responds by saying that we were with “intelligence people” this week who told her that Muslim terrorists were moving into the Bible Belt to orchestrate a jihad and “infiltrating churches.”

“I was with some intelligence people this week. You wouldn’t believe what’s going on in this country; it would scare you to death,” Beavers said. “We are the center of their attention because we’re are the center of the Bible Belt. And they’re purposely moving terrorists in here, and they’re bringing their families in, and they’re setting it up for a jihad, I can tell you right now.

“The Muslims, they believe in the Quran and the Quran says that you’re going to kill all the infidels.” There was then a brief exchange between Beavers and the attendees about Muslim residents living locally.

“Something else that they’re doing is they’re doing is infiltrating the churches, they’ll visit the churches and find out what’s going on,” she said at the meeting.

Asked about her comments in an interview, Beavers said the meeting was with “former intelligence officials” before the town hall on Thursday, but they told her in the meeting the information was not accurate.

“They had received some information they said was not entirely accurate,” she said, acknowledging that one meeting was before the town hall.

Beavers said she didn’t recall talking about “a specific jihad,” but said terrorism in Tennessee has been a topic of conversation and concern for her since she was chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee several years ago.

“I know a lot of people that are concerned about the threat of terrorism, and that’s what I was addressing,” she said.

Former congressional candidate convicted of plotting to burn mosque

A U.S. District Court jury at Chattanooga has convicted Robert Doggart, a former TVA engineer and 2014 independent candidate for Congress, of recruiting people to burn down a mosque in a Muslim community, reports the Times-Free Press.

The verdict came after 16 hours of deliberating over the course of three days. Afterward, a U.S. marshal ushered the 65-year-old across the courtroom and transported him to federal custody in Alabama.

Thursday’s verdict wrapped up a high-profile case for government prosecutors, who argued Doggart needed to be convicted of one count of solicitation to commit a civil rights violation, one count of solicitation to commit arson of a building, and two counts of threat in interstate commerce. For proof, they played several phone calls in which Doggart discussed burning down a mosque at Islamberg and using assault rifles on any Muslims who opposed him or his self-assembled militia.

…”Our nation cannot tolerate threats by those who are willing to kill innocent children, women and men who do not share their religious beliefs or philosophy,” Nancy Harr, U.S. attorney for the Eastern District of Tennessee, said in a statement afterward.

… As a result of the conviction, Doggart faces up to 10 years maximum on each of the four charges for which he will be sentenced on May 31.

“I am heartened that citizens from Chattanooga, a community that was victimized by domestic terrorism just 18 months ago, chose to condemn the threat of more terroristic acts,” Harr added. “The jury carefully and attentively listened to the proof, deliberated cautiously for two days, and reached a verdict that reaffirms our American principles.”

GOP resolution grumbles about California’s TN travel ban

News release from Senate Republican Caucus

(NASHVILLE), February 13, 2017 – State Senator Mike Bell (R-Cleveland), Representative Bill Dunn (R-Knoxville) and Representative Tilman Goins (R-Morristown) have introduced a resolution (SJR111) in the Tennessee General Assembly pointing out the absurdity of California’s ban of state-funded and state-sponsored travel based on policy differences with Tennessee, North Carolina, Mississippi and Kansas. At a press conference today the lawmakers said the ban is a dangerous precedent that could lead to reciprocal action.

The lawmakers also called upon national legislative conferences to assist in curtailing similar travel bans between states.

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