In a House floor speech Monday night, Rep. Bill Dunn said plans for “Sex Week” at the University of Tennessee provide an example of campus organizations promoting behavior offensive to Christian students and why legislators need to protect them.
Sen. Stacey Campfield, meanwhile, said he expects UT officials to be called before the Senate Education Committee to explain the event, scheduled on the Knoxville campus April 7-12.
Campfield wrote members of the committee suggesting the panel reconsider its approval of UT’s budget for the coming year because of the event. He said Monday that the committee’s chairman, Sen. Dolores Gresham, R-Somerville, told him reconsideration of budget approval would be difficult, but that UT officials would be summoned to explain Sex Week.
Dunn and Campfield, both Knoxville Republicans, cited a Fox News report on Sex Week, arranged by Sexual Empowerment and Awareness in Tennessee (SEAT).
Dunn told House colleagues that participants will engage in a scavenger hunt for a golden condom and that workshop topics include “getting laid,” “sex positivity,” “queer as a bug” and “how to turn up the heat on our sex drive.”
The Fox News report says the event will use about $20,000 in UT funds, mostly from student fees.
“My blood runs deep orange and it’s boiling,” said Dunn, repeating what he said was a comment from a UT alumnus.
On a website, SEAT says Sex Week originated at Harvard University in 2002 and was brought to UT because of the “need for more openess and justice around these issues.”
“Appreciating the diversity and unity of the human experience entails understanding the range of sexual and gender identities we hold and express, and how these are shaped by culture, politics, religion, the environment, and even the economy,” the website says. “College is about education and thoughtful discussion, and that includes important topics like sex and sexuality.”
Dunn’s remarks came during debate on a bill (HB534) that declares public colleges and universities cannot require campus organizations to accept “all comers” as members, regardless of whether the individual has religious beliefs that conflict with the organization’s purpose.
The bill was inspired by a Vanderbilt University “all comers” policy, described by the university as anti-discrimination, that has spurred protests from that campus’ Christian students. The protests followed reports of an atheist and a homosexual seeking membership in campus Christian groups.
Last year, the Legislature passed a bill that would have banned “all comers” policies at both private and public universities in Tennessee, but it was vetoed by Gov. Bill Haslam and an attorney general’s opinion said it was unconstitutional as applied to private universities.
This year’s bill applies only to state universities in the UT and Board of Regents systems. Rep. Mark Pody, R-Lebanon, sponsor of the measure, said the legislation is supported by Haslam in its current form and will not be subject to a veto.
No state institution now has such a policy and Democrats argued there is thus no reason for the legislation.
“It seems like the conservative position would be waiting for a problem instead of legislating befoe there is a problem, ” said Rep. Mike Stewart, D-Nashville. “I don’t believe we should be telling the University of Tennessee or student groups what to do, especially when no problem exists.”
But Dunn said the Sex Week at UT shows a tendency toward offensive behavior that can develop and, therefore, the need for legislators to act in advance to preempt problems.
He and Pody also likened the situation to the Legislature’s Black Caucus and Republican and Democratic Caucuses being forced to accept members with conflicting political loyalties.
House Minority Leader Craig Fitzhugh, D-Ripley, attempted to amend the bill to say that campus organizations, though not required to admit persons of differing faiths, would be required to allow them to visit.
“This merely allows a student to learn the tenants of another faith.. for informational purposes only,” said Fitzhugh.
His amendment was tabled, or killed, at Pody’s urging on a 67-27 vote. The bill itself was approved 75-21 and now goes to the Senate.
“I’d hate to think the inmates are running the asylum over there,” Campfield said in an interview. “This is ridiculous… It is not what parents send their kids to school for.”
“I would hope UT would step up to the plate, say we made a mistake… that this slipped through and we are going to take steps to stop it and make sure it doesn’t happen again,” Campfield said.