A resolution condemning the University of Tennessee Sex Week as “an atrocious event” and “an outrageous misuse of student fees and grant monies” was approved by the House Monday night over protests of some Democrats that students’ rights were being ignored.
The measure passed on a 69-17 vote with other representatives taking no position one way or the other. It now goes to the Senate.
House Republican Caucus Chairman Glen Casada of Franklin said during debate that if UT officials ignore HJR661, which amounts to an expression of opinion with no legal impact, “There may be stronger actions coming from this body.”
Still pending in the Legislature are measures to put new restrictions on the use of UT student fees that could impact funding of UT Sex Week, scheduled on the Knoxville campus next week and including, according to the resolution, “an aphrodisiac cooking class, drag show, and condom scavenger hunt.”
As originally drafted by Rep. Richard Floyd, R-Chattanooga, the sponsor, the resolution condemned the UT administration. That was amended to instead condemn “organizers” of the event.
House Democratic Caucus Chairman Mike Turner of Nashville told Floyd that was effectively “condemning their First Amendment rights.”
“I support First Amendment rights,” replied Floyd. “But you don’t have a right to drag the UT-K brand and the thousands of students and the thousands of alumni of that institution through the mud.”
Knoxville’s two Democratic representatives, Joe Armstrong and Gloria Johnson, both spoke against the resolution.
Armstrong, whose district includes the Knoxville campus, said he has heard from “numerous” students who believe “we are stepping on their rights.”
“We should not try to dictate to our next generation,” Armstrong said, recalling UT has a long history of hearing conflicting views on issues dating back to the Vietnam War, and should instead “give them the knowledge to let them decide.”
Johnson said most UT students are adults, over the age of 18, and “We shouldn’t treat them as children.”
Further, Johnson said, publicity about Sex Week has generally ignored that it includes “meetings about abstinence, about appropriate relationship and about (preventing) domestic violence.”
Several Republican lawmakers, said the issue was one of spending public money for a program many taxpayers find offensive.
“This is nothing more than asking an adult to act like an adult and take charge of the situation,” said Rep. Ron Lollar, R-Bartlett, “We’re paying the bills and they ought to understand that.”
House Majority Leader Gerald McCormick, R-Chattanooga, said he has a 17-year-old daughter soon to attend UT and “it irritates me a little bit” to see funds going toward “something that is offensive to a lot of parents.”
“They call them student fees, but they are parent fees,” McCormick said, adding that free speech also sometimes means “you’ve got to shout those people down.”
“I defy anyone to say that Sex Week is good,” said Rep. John Ragan, R-Oak Ridge, further contending that free works both ways.
“The taxpayer also has the right to express condemnation of that free speech that exceeds the bounds,” he said.