Category Archives: religion and politics

Judge dismisses one state lawsuit against same-sex marriage

A Williamson County judge says last summer’s same-sex marriage ruling represents one of the worst examples of courts “ignoring their proper role” and legislating from the bench, reports WPLN. But he’s nonetheless thrown out a long-shot attempt to overturn the Supreme Court decision.

Chancellor Joseph Woodruff accused five Supreme Court justices of overturning the will of democratically elected state lawmakers. ut Woodruff added he wasn’t going to make the same mistake by trying to reverse their decision to strike down state bans on same-sex marriage. Woodruff said if anyone was going to respond to the Obergefell v. Hodges decision with new laws, it ought to be state lawmakers.

“Our function is to apply the law, not to create it,” Woodruff said of judges. “The present lawsuit invites us to answer the legislative excesses of the Supreme Court with legislation of our own. This we must not do.”

That spells the end to one of the suits filed by conservative lawyer David Fowler that tries to challenge the same-sex marriage ruling.

Fowler argued that when the U.S. Supreme Court struck down state bans on same-sex marriages, it took the rest of Tennessee’s marriage laws down with it. That means all marriage in Tennessee is invalid — not just the state’s ban on gay marriage.

But Woodruff determined the plaintiffs — three ministers and two other people who live in Williamson County — couldn’t show they’d been harmed by the Obergefell ruling. That means they couldn’t sue the Williamson County clerk and other authorities for issuing marriage licenses.

Note: Fowler commentary via email below. Continue reading

Religious counseling law challenged in lawsuit

Two gay rights activists have filed a lawsuit challenging a new Tennessee law allowing mental health therapists to refuse treatment to patients based on the therapists’ religious or personal beliefs is unconstitutional, reports the News-Sentinel.

Bleu Copas of Anderson County and Caleb Laieski of Virginia filed the complaint Tuesday in Anderson County Chancery Court.

Sought is an injunction to keep the law from being applied and a judgment voiding the statute. The legal action was filed against Gov. Bill Haslam, who signed the controversial bill into law.

Both men are identified as homosexuals in the complaint, and Laieski is described as a “national lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender rights activist” who lives in Alexandria, Va.

The new law “is a matter of great public concern,” and LGBT individuals “are singled out for discriminatory treatment,” according to the complaint. “There is no other group which could conceivably be the target of the statute,” it continues.

“The effect of the statute is to give counselors and therapists an open door to discriminate against people of certain protected classes, specifically LGBT individuals and couples,” the legal action avers.

“Mr. Copas and Mr. Laieski, along with all other LGBT individuals, cannot be treated differently through legislation than the rest of the population,” it continues.

…Haslam has defended his decision to sign the bill into law, saying professionals should have the right to decide if their clients’ goals don’t match their own personal beliefs.

D.C. mayor bans publicly funded travel to TN

Washington, D.C., has become the second city to ban publicly funded travel to Tennessee over the state’s controversial new law allowing mental health counselors to deny services to gay, lesbian and transgender clients and others.

Further from Michael Collins:

Mayor Muriel Bowser’s order, issued May 11 and published Friday in the city’s official legal bulletin, bars all city-funded travel to the Volunteer State on the grounds that the law could be “particularly harmful” to the LGBT community.

Official travel to Tennessee is prohibited “to ensure a constant voice in policy and practice in the District of Columbia in favor of equal treatment for all,” the order says.

The ban will remain in effect until the Tennessee law is “permanently enjoined, repealed or amended.”

Washington’s ban is the latest repercussion for Tennessee over its new law, which Gov. Bill Haslam signed late last month. The law allows licensed counselors and therapists to deny service to counselors whose “goals, outcomes or behaviors” conflict with the counselor’s “sincerely held principles” — a measure the American Counseling Association had denounced as a “hate bill” against gay and transgender people.

…Last week, Philadelphia Mayor Jim Kenney banned all publicly funded, non-essential travel to Tennessee, saying the law “infringes on the rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender individuals.” Earlier this month, the American Counseling Association canceled its annual conference, which was set to be held in Nashville next year, in protest of the new law.

Christian conservative group rates most TN legislators as perfect

The Family Action Council of Tennessee, a leading Christian conservative lobby, has released its “scorecard” rating of state legislators serving in the 109th General Assembly. Sixty-two of the state’s 99 House members got a perfect 100 percent score; so did 19 of the state’s 33 senators.

On the other hand, 18 legislators – all Democrats, 15 representatives and three senators – got a zero rating from the group. Only one Democrat, Rep. John Mark Windle of Livingston, got 100 percent (though Rep. Kevin Dunlap, D-Sparta, got 91 percent; Rep. John DeBerry, D-Memphis, came in at 88 percent; and Sen. Reginald Tate, D-Memphis, at 50 percent.).

The lowest ranking Republican was Sen. Steve Dickerson, R-Nashville, who scored 44 percent. In the House, the lowest Republican ranking went to Rep. Kent Calfee, R-Kingston, at 63 percent. House Speaker Beth Harwell and Senate Speaker Ron Ramsey were both part of the 100 percent crowd.

The ratings are based on legislators’ support or opposition to FACT’s position on 10 votes, ranging from the bathroom bill that failed amid much controversy to a resolution denouncing the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling on gay marriage.

The full scorecard is HERE.

Religious counseling law could lead to lawsuit

The national group that recently canceled a Nashville convention as a result of a new state law that allows counselors to deny service to clients is considering squaring off against Tennessee in court, reports The Tennessean.

“I’m not an attorney, but I will tell you that we will be looking at whether or not there is a possible legal action to take against the state given this law being enacted,” American Counseling Association CEO Richard Yep told The Tennessean this week.

Yep said any potential legal action against the state could even expand beyond the ACA.

“There could be a challenge from the federal government based on the fact that the state obviously does receive federal funds through Medicare. Whether or not the Department of Justice wants to get involved because of the denial of services, we will see,” he said.

Last week, the U.S. Department of Justice filed a lawsuit against North Carolina, which enacted a law that bans transgender people from using bathrooms that don’t match with their sex at birth. The Justice Department’s civil rights office said the law violates civil rights.
The state also has sued the federal government in an effort to keep the controversial law.

…Rep. Cameron Sexton, R-Crossville, who serves as chairman of the House Health Committee, which discussed the measure, brushed aside concerns that the state could face action from the federal government, saying, “I figured there could be legal action, but at the end of the day there is no refusal of service in this bill.”

Sexton said he worried about Yep misrepresenting the fact that the ACA was not consulted as the bill made its way through the legislative process. He pointed out that the ACA hired a lobbyist who met with lawmakers about the legislation.

In an interview with The Tennessean earlier this week, Yep said no one in the legislature or the governor’s office reached out to the ACA to ask for a clarification about the organization’s change to its code of ethics.

“At this point I don’t know what to think about the association as a whole,” Sexton said. “All this law does is allow a counselor to refer a patient to another counselor.”

Counseling group cancels TN conference to protest new law

By Sheila Burke, Associated Press
NASHVILLE, Tenn. — By canceling its conference in Tennessee next year, the American Counseling Association wants to put other states on notice that new LGBT laws can carry consequences, the group’s leader said.

The cancellation announced Tuesday, had been hinted at after the Tennessee General Assembly passed a new law letting therapists decline to see patients based on religious values and personal principles. It’s aimed at preventing similar measures elsewhere.

“Our message to other states is don’t introduce bills that are essentially legalizing discrimination,” said Richard Yep, the organization’s CEO. “It is discriminating against those who are least able to fight back.”

The conference would have brought 3,500 to 4,000 people to Nashville, he said. The Nashville Convention & Visitors Corp. estimates that it would have generated $2.5 million in direct visitor spending and $444,609 in tax revenue for the city and the state of Tennessee.

Nashville Mayor Megan Barry and tourist officials in the Music City have vocally opposed the legislation and warned of a possible backlash.
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Trump tweet deems Baptist leader ‘nasty guy with no heart’

From WPLN:
Leaders of the Nashville-based Southern Baptist Convention have been critical of Donald Trump throughout his campaign. And now the Republican presidential candidate is firing back.

Russell Moore heads the denomination’s public policy arm, and he appeared on CBS’s Face the Nation this week. He said Evangelicals willing to back Trump have not only surrendered the culture wars, but in his words, they’ve “joined the other side.”

“You have conservatives who are saying in the previous Clinton era that character matters — rightly so — who now are not willing to say anything when we have this sort of reality television, moral sewage,” Moore said.

The morning after, Donald Trump tweeted that Moore is “a terrible representative of Evangelicals” and “a nasty guy with no heart.”

Philadelphia mayor bans travel to TN over new counseling law

Tennessee’s controversial new law allowing mental health counselors to turn away LGBT clients has prompted Philadelphia Mayor Jim Kenney to ban publicly funded, non-essential travel by city workers to the Volunteer State, according to the Times-Free Press.

Meanwhile, a New York state assemblyman state is urging Gov. Andrew Cuomo to do the same.

… Philadelphia Mayor Kenney’s order on Monday, first reported by NBC affiliate WCAU-TV, is the first action by a government over the Tennessee legislation, which Gov. Bill Haslam last month signed into law April 27 after fellow Republicans in the General Assembly passed the measure.

Kenney’s order extends his previously issued directive aimed at Mississippi and North Carolina to Tennessee and Oxford, Ala., all of which have enacted measures critics charge negatively impact lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender persons.

In a statement, Kenney said “I am announcing this ban in response to the enactment of legislation that infringes the rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender individuals in these jurisdictions.”

Kenney said he would “reconsider this ban if the States of North Carolina, Mississippi, Tennessee and the city of Oxford, Alabama choose to repeal their discriminatory legislation.”

The mayor’s directive creates an exemption if the travel is deemed “essential to public health and safety.

Philadelphia’s action comes on the heels of last month’s announcement by Washington Secretary of State Kim Wyman, a Republican, who said the new Tennessee law was partially responsible for her decision not to attend this summer’s conference of the nation’s 50 secretaries of state in Nashville.

Atheist group sues Bradley County sheriff

An atheist group has sued Bradley County Sheriff Eric Watson, a former state legislator, for promoting Christianity and allegedly deleting critics’ and unbelievers’ posts on the sheriff’s department’s official Facebook page, reports the Times-Free Press.

The American Atheists Inc. and a Bradley County resident identified as Jane Doe filed the suit Friday evening in U.S. District Court in Chattanooga, claiming the sheriff’s office violated their First Amendment rights.

They are asking a judge to stop Watson and his employees from proselytizing for Christianity on government social media and from censoring opposing viewpoints. Bradley County was included in the lawsuit because it funds most of the sheriff’s budget, and because it did nothing to stop the First Amendment violations, the complaint states.

“This lawsuit is about protecting the community’s First Amendment right to speak out about its elected officials,” Amanda Knief, national legal director for the New Jersey-based American Atheists, said in a news release.

“The BCSO had no problem with public comments until they were critical of the sheriff or his proselytizing at work. But the government doesn’t get to silence speech it doesn’t like — even if that speech is negative, unflattering and disrespectful of the sheriff’s religion.”

…The lawsuit said the local resident filed as Jane Doe for fear of “ridicule and possible retaliation.”

Doe took exception when the Facebook page posted “He Is Risen” and a Christian message on Easter, the lawsuit states. The American Atheists received a complaint March 27, and the next day wrote Watson saying the post was inappropriate for a government website… The atheist group asks the judge to order the conduct stopped immediately and forever, and that Doe and the American Atheists be awarded monetary damages and attorney’s fees and costs.

Note: A copy of the lawsuit is HERE.

Message at TN prayer rally: ‘Vote for the lesser of two heathens’

By Travis Loller, Associated Press
NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Evangelist Franklin Graham told a crowd of thousands at the Tennessee Capitol on Tuesday to pray for the country and vote for candidates that stand for biblical principles.

“I’m going to say something that’s going to make some people angry,” Graham said. “I have zero hope in the Republican party. I have zero hope in the Democratic party.

“The only hope for the United States of America is almighty God.”

Graham told reporters after the rally that he has been a Republican most of his life but left the party last year because he was fed up with it.

During the rally he said politicians are too concerned with being politically correct. Asked later about the veto of a Tennessee bill that would have made the Bible the state book, Graham said he was not surprised.

“I see how weak politicians are,” he said. “Isn’t it interesting they are scared of the Bible?”
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