Category Archives: religion and politics

Draft of TN social studies standards cuts references to Islam

KINGSPORT, Tenn. (AP) — Seventh-grade students in Tennessee would no longer spend as much time learning about the history of Islam by 2019 under a proposed draft revision being developed by state educators, a newspaper reports.

A section on Islam currently taught in social studies classes has been removed from the state Board of Education’s draft , which went online for public review Sept. 15, the Kingsport Times-News reported. Most of the sections involving Christianity, Judaism, Buddhism, Hinduism and other religions have remained in the draft in some form.

With the proposed deletion of the “Islamic World, 400 A.D./C.E. – 1500s” section, students would no longer be learning about the Quran or the differences between the Sunni and Shiite branches of the religion, the newspaper had reported. Continue reading

Fired Muslim THP trooper get $100K in damages

U.S. District Court Judge Tena Campbell has ruled that former Tennessee Highway Patrol Trooper De’Ossie Dingus is entitled to $100,000 for wrongful termination and years of discrimination because of his Muslim religion, reports the News Sentinel.

“He was treated as a threat,” the judge wrote. “He was labeled as a possible terrorist-in-the-making. He was subjected to humiliating circumstances. All because he is a Sunni Muslim.”

Dingus, a military veteran who worked for the THP for a decade, was fired in 2010 after military liaison Maj. Kevin Taylor called Dingus a potential terrorist based on a brief encounter in November 2009 when Dingus complained about the airing of a video on the radicalization of children during a training class that was supposed to teach troopers how to recognize weapons of mass destruction.

…Campbell’s ruling notes the terrorist claims were the last in a long string of mistreatments of Dingus by supervisors because of his faith.

…Campbell had already ruled in Dingus’ favor, but there was one big legal problem when it came to damages. Rather than going to a psychiatrist or a therapist as a prelude to proving emotional distress or a doctor to corroborate stress-induced illness, Dingus hustled to pay his bills and filed a claim with the Tennessee Civil Service Commission.

He won $154,000 in back pay and benefits as a result of that claim but had to agree to take early retirement. Attorney Knight insisted the Department of Safety needed to be held accountable, and a financial punch for damages was the only way to do that. But the law requires some showing of psychological and medical damages.

Campbell initially awarded Dingus $1, but the 6th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals ruled earlier this year Dingus’ case was so “egregious” it didn’t matter whether he had proved psychological fallout via traditional means. The harm he suffered, the court opined, was obvious. That ruling led to this week’s reconsideration of damages by Campbell.

Islamic Center sues state for denying tax exemption

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — The Islamic Center of Nashville is suing the state in federal court after it says it was denied a tax exemption.

The lawsuit, filed Monday, argues the center’s religious tax exemption for its Nashville International Academy school was denied because of a banking deal that allowed the center to follow its religious beliefs, reported the Tennessean. The center was billed more than $87,000 in past-due taxes as a result.

In 2008, the mosque built a new school building. Since the Islamic center adheres to Islam’s prohibition against paying interest, it struck a banking agreement known as an ijara to pay for the construction without interest, according to the lawsuit.

The arrangement transferred the property’s title to a bank until October 2013 when the Islamic center paid its final payment. It was the transfer, the lawsuit said, that led to the denial of the Islamic center’s retroactive exemption request.

“We believe the Tennessee statute is unconstitutional because it imposes a burden on Muslim institutions that it does not place on those of any other faith community,” said Christina Jump, an attorney representing the mosque.

The lawsuit requests damages and asks a judge to say the center does not have to pay the taxes.

The Islamic center first appealed the denial to an administrative law judge and the Assessment Appeals Commission. In May, the commission said the transfer of title disqualified the center from exemption. It also sympathized with the mosque and suggested they take legislative action.

A state spokesman said he couldn’t comment on pending litigation.

Six legislators went to Europe at Andy Miller’s expense

Investigations into Jeremy Durham’s finances reveal gaping holes in state campaign finance laws that allow lawmakers to receive overseas “education” trips from wealthy donors and use campaign money for investments not reported to the public, reports The Tennessean.

Durham invested his campaign funds in the company of well-known Republican donor Andy Miller, who is the leader of an organization described as a hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center. Miller also paid for six lawmakers — one Democrat and five Republicans — to take a trip in fall 2011 to Europe to learn about “radical Islam.”

The trips and the investments involved thousands of dollars, and raised concerns among ethics and open government advocates about the influence of money on the lawmakers. But none of these transactions or travel are required to be reported on any state campaign finance document, said Drew Rawlins, executive director of the state Bureau of Ethics and Campaign Finance.

…Miller is a prominent tea party-aligned donor and leader of the Tennessee Freedom Coalition. The Southern Poverty Law Center says the group is opposed to Islam and those who practice it, landing the organization on the SPLC’s list of hate groups for years, said Stephen Piggott, a senior research analyst at the SPLC.

…The “gift” loophole in state law allowed Miller to pay for six lawmakers to go on a five-day “fact-finding” trip to Europe. Because Miller isn’t a registered lobbyist, Rawlins said, there’s no violation of law, and there is nothing Miller or the lawmakers on the trip would need to report to his agency.

“They can’t accept a gift from a lobbyist or an employer of a lobbyist. So if it was paid for by a lobbyist or employer of a lobbyist, then it would be a prohibited gift. Otherwise, there’s no prohibition on taking a — and I’ll use the term gift, but a trip in this case — there’s no prohibition on that,” Rawlins said.

Miller’s trip included stops in Dearborn, Mich. — a city with a large Arab-American population — London, Brussels, Antwerp and Amsterdam. Those on the trip include: Sens. Reginald Tate, D-Memphis; Bill Ketron, R-Murfreesboro; Rep. Judd Matheny, R-Tullahoma; Rep. Matthew Hill, R-Jonesborough; and then state Rep. Joe Carr, a Lascassas Republican who unsuccessfully challenged U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander and U.S. Rep. Diane Black in recent primaries.

“The purpose of the trip was to discuss immigration issues with their peers in parliaments there that I had met on previous encounters,” Miller said in an email, also confirming paying for the trip.

“It may be hard for some to understand that I went to this expense simply out of love and concern for my country,” he said. “But that is the fact.”

Carr said Miller paid for flight and hotel costs. When asked is he was concerned about possible criticism of Miller financing an international trip for lawmakers, Carr said: “I don’t give a rat’s ass.”

Ministers stage prayerful Nashville protest

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — A group of ministers from across Tennessee knelt in the middle of an intersection in Nashville’s tourist district Monday, blocking the street as they prayed for equality and justice.

The protest was one of many across the country challenging the right of religious conservatives to define morality.

It began with a rally on the steps of the state Capitol that happened to coincide with the first day of a specially called three-day legislative session. About 150 people gathered, including home health workers, fast food workers and custodians demanding a $15-an-hour minimum wage as lawmakers filed past.

State Sen. Jeff Yarbro, D-Nashville, addressed the crowd saying lawmakers had been warned to look out for protesters.

“This is the people’s house, and it’s time for it to do the people’s business,” he told the crowd.

Thelma Rimmer said she has worked as a custodian at the University of Memphis for 10 years and makes $10.30 an hour.

“Sometimes I have to decide whether to pay the light bill or to buy food, sometimes even rent,” she said. “I want to make a wage where I am able to send my children to college, too.”

The Rev. Andre E. Johnson, with Gift of Life Ministries in Memphis, was one of several ministers at the rally who delivered a petition to Gov. Bill Haslam’s office demanding solutions to issues like persistent poverty and inequality.

“It’s not only unjust; it’s a sin,” he said.

Johnson said many lawmakers feel God called them to serve. “We just want to make sure they’re hearing from the right God,” he said.

After the rally, the group marched to Broadway where they blocked an intersection. The ministers kneeled in the middle of the road while other demonstrators joined hands in a circle around them. They prayed as tourists looked on from nearby honky-tonks, country music blaring into the street.

Christian conservatives ‘cheapest date in American politics’?

David French, a Columbia, Tenn.-based conservative commentator who toyed with running for president earlier this year, told a Southern Baptist gathering that Christian conservatives should cease being “the cheapest date in American politics” by always backing Republicans, reports The Tennessean.

The National Review staff writer …called this year’s election cycle a “colossal, miserable, disgusting failure” with nomination of Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton, but added “in American history it’s been worse.”

While the Columbia resident dissected how the election wound up in such a gloomy state, he also laid out a path for social conservatives Saturday at the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission’s post conference in Nashville. The morning event delved into the presidential election, religious liberty and the future of the church.

“We cannot tie ourselves to one political party,” French said. Continue reading

Atheists settle lawsuit against TN sheriff for $41K

News release from American Atheists association
Chattanooga, TN—American Atheists and Bradley County and the Bradley County Sheriff’s Office have reached a settlement in a federal lawsuit alleging First Amendment violations of the U.S. Constitution by Bradley County and Bradley County Sheriff Eric Watson.

As part of settlement agreement, the new official Bradley County Sheriff’s Department Facebook page will not be used to “promote or further any religion, religious organization, religious event or religious belief.” Additionally, the sheriff’s office has decided to not allow any comments on this Facebook page, making it an informational Facebook page only. The office’s original Facebook page was deactivated earlier this year and will be permanently deactivated.

While the county and sheriff admit to no wrongdoing under the agreement, the county will pay a total of $15,000 in damages to American Atheists and the local plaintiffs, Joshua Stevens and Jane Doe, and $26,000 in attorney’s fees.

“This settlement is a clear win for the plaintiffs, whose First Amendment rights to free speech and to be free of government establishment of religion were infringed upon,” said Amanda Knief, National Legal and Public Policy Director of American Atheists. “We are pleased the sheriff has agreed to do the right thing by no longer using this official government social media account to promote religion.”

“What is unfortunate, is that it took a lawsuit and more than $40,000 in taxpayer money for the county and sheriff to put this common sense policy in place,” Knief added. “We would have preferred that the sheriff allow citizens the freedom to comment and interact with the sheriff’s office on the Facebook page, but we were not able to reach agreement on that during mediation.”

The anonymous Bradley County resident represented by American Atheists added, “I have always said that Constitutional rights are worth fighting for, and I am proud that when tested, I stood by that principle. It was not easy to stand up to the county sheriff and some people in my community who disagreed with me. Despite some negative backlash, I do not regret taking action against government censorship. If you don’t stand up for yourself, you risk losing your rights.”

Sheriff Watson will be allowed to maintain a personal Facebook page that is clearly marked as containing only his personal opinions and not those of the department.

The lawsuit arose in May after Sheriff Watson posted an explicitly religious Easter message on the sheriff’s office’s official Facebook page. American Atheists sent a letter to the sheriff advising against such religious messages on a government-sponsored social media site. The sheriff responded by telling a local newspaper that he intended to be use his position as sheriff to proselytize. After posting the local newspaper article on the sheriff’s office’s Facebook page, commenters began criticizing the sheriff’s statements. The sheriff and employees of the sheriff’s department began deleting and blocking critical comments and users who were critical of the sheriff while leaving favorable comments on the governmental Facebook page.

Statuesque Dayton debate over ‘monkey trial’ lawyers

By Travis Loller, Associated Press
DAYTON, Tenn. — In 1925, two of America’s most renowned figures faced off in the southeast Tennessee town of Dayton to debate a burning issue — whether man evolved over millions of years or was created by God in his present form.

Today, only one of the two, the Christian orator William Jennings Bryan, is commemorated with a statue on the courthouse lawn. A group of atheists hopes to change that.

Bryan defended the Biblical account while trial lawyer and skeptic Clarence Darrow defended evolution in the “Scopes monkey trial” — formally, Tennessee vs. John Thomas Scopes. The case became front-page news nationwide and is memorialized in songs, books, plays and movies.

Nearly a century later, the debate pitting evolution against the biblical account of creation rages on nationally and locally. Nearly all scientists accept evolution, but many Christians see it as incompatible with their faith. Just two years ago in Dayton, professors at a Christian college named for Bryan were fired in a dispute over whether Adam and Eve were historical people. Continue reading

Ketron brings Dutch anti-Islam leader to GOP convention

From the Associated Press
Tennessee state Sen. Bill Ketron has invited controversial Dutch politician Geert Wilders to the Republican National Convention.

Wilders tweeted late Sunday that he had arrived in Cleveland. His tweet included a photo of a guest pass from the Tennessee Republican Party. Ketron, of Murfreesboro, told The Tennessean (http://tnne.ws/2a6RUkx ) the populist anti-Islam and Euro-skeptic lawmaker is his friend.

Wilders has supported a ban on immigrants from Islamic countries to the Netherlands, similar to the idea presumptive presidential nominee Donald Trump has floated of temporarily banning foreign Muslims from entering the U.S. Ketron has sponsored several Tennessee bills aimed at Islam.

The invitation was criticized by Council on American-Islamic Relations spokesman Ibrahim Hooper, who said, “The Republican Party should not be importing foreign anti-Muslim bigots.”

For more, see Nashville Post Politics. Excerpt:

“Mr. Wilders is my guest at the convention. He called me sometime ago and was interested in attending. Like myself, having never attended a Convention before [sic] and he wanted to experience the process!” Ketron said in a text message.

When reached by phone this morning, Ketron said he was surprised that Wilders was a controversial choice of guest.

“He’s well-known in Europe, not here. A lot of people don’t even know who he is here,” Ketron said. “The only reason he is controversial is that he speaks his mind … and I agree with his philosophy.”

That philosophy is, in part, is that Islam is not actually a religion and that it is not compatible with democracy, or as Ketron put it, that his country “is being destroyed by the state of Islam.” Does Ketron think the United States is also being destroyed by Islam? He does, he replied, saying that the flux of Syrian refugees who do not “want to assimilate” and who are bringing tuberculosis past the borders is a crisis.

Yet although Wilders is Ketron’s guest, it seems that he likely won’t be attending many of the delegation’s events. For one, Ketron says, he has his own Dutch secret service accompanying him, adding to the already complex security logistics at the RNC. For another, it seems unlikely that at least one event at which Wilders is a “featured guest” — an LGBT gathering entitled, “WAKE UP! (the most fab party at the RNC)” — would be of interest to most of the Tennessee GOP delegates.

Next year’s booze bill: Liquor sales on Sundays?

In a lengthy review of change in Tennessee liquor laws, the highlight being wine in grocery stores, the Nashville Scene suggests the next step: Sunday sales of liquor and wine by the bottle.

Why should a grocery store be permitted to sell beer until 3 a.m. on Sundays but have to cut off wine sales at 11 p.m. and refuse to sell on Sundays? But in a compromise with the liquor retail industry, the grocery lobby agreed to the different hours, at least for now.

Everyone knows the fix is temporary. The question is, how long before it changes?

“I think maybe a year or two — let’s take a breather,” Ketron says of when he might introduce legislation syncing the days and times that wine and beer can be sold. “But it’s the next logical step that people want.”

Ketron points out that many people are skirting Sunday sales already by going to a restaurant, ordering a bottle of wine, sipping maybe half a glass, and then taking the bottle home under corkage provisions. Besides, distilleries in the state can already sell their wares on Sundays, meaning there is currently a legal way to buy liquor on the Lord’s Day.

Cheek thinks it will take a couple of tries to get Sunday sales through; Ketron estimates “up to five years.” But Ikard thinks if enough consumers contact their legislators this fall — and enough grocery store owners point out what a pain the law is — the change could be sooner.

“I think we could possibly change that next session,” Ikard says.

Even retailers seem resigned to the eventuality.