Legislation declaring that student counselors can reject clients with religious beliefs differing from their own is advancing over the objections of psychology professors who say the bill is counter to the profession’s ethical code and could threaten academic accreditation.
The bill (SB514) is similar to a Michigan law enacted last year after courts upheld the dismissal of Julea Ward from an Eastern Michigan University counseling program when, based on her Christian beliefs, she refused to counsel a homosexual student.
The bill is pushed by the Family Action Council of Tennessee, a Christian activist organization headed by David Fowler, a former state senator from Signal Mountain.
The measure declares that public colleges and universities “shall not discipline or discriminate against a student in a counseling, social work, or psychology program because the student refuses to counsel or serve a client as to goals, outcomes, or behaviors that conflict with a sincerely held religious belief of the student, if the student refers the client to a counselor who will provide the counseling or services.”
Dr. Brent Mallinckrodt, a professor in the University of Tennessee’s psychology program, was joined by four other past or present academicians in urging defeat of the measure in testimony before the Senate Education Committee.
Tennessee lawmakers on Tuesday revived an effort to pressure Vanderbilt University to drop its controversial nondiscrimination policy for student clubs, reports Chas Sisk — this time with an attack on the school’s police powers. A pair of Middle Tennessee lawmakers said they will press ahead with a bill that would strip the Vanderbilt University Police Department of state recognition unless the school abandons its “all-comers” policy. That policy requires university-sponsored clubs to follow its rules against discrimination based on race, ethnicity, religion, gender or sexual orientation.
The bill would defy the wishes of Gov. Bill Haslam, who vetoed a measure last year that attacked the all-comers rule from a different angle. Backers said the new measure would stand a better chance of holding up in the courts and protect students from arbitrary use of police power to break up protests against the policy.
“Who will hold Nicholas Zeppos accountable?” said David Fowler, president of the Family Action Council of Tennessee, referring to Vanderbilt’s chancellor.
But university officials said the measure flies in the face of efforts to tighten security in the wake of mass shootings. Without state recognition, Vanderbilt’s police effectively would become security guards, they said.
“I just find it unbelievable,” said August Washington, chief of the Vanderbilt University Police Department.
Senate Bill 1241/House Bill 1150, sponsored by state Rep. Mark Pody and state Sen. Mae Beavers, would take police powers away from any university that has adopted policies that “discriminate” against religious student organizations. Seventeen universities in Tennessee have their own police departments.
But it is geared toward Vanderbilt, which has implemented a rule requiring recognized student groups to follow school policies that bar discrimination.
Family Action of Tennessee, a conservative Christian organization, today declared 16 state senators and 37 state representatives — all of them Republicans — as “Champions of the Family.” That means they had a record of voting the way the organization wanted 100 percent of the time.
The most notable absence from the list, perhaps, is House Speaker Beth Harwell. A check of her voting record by FAT standards shows her with a 92 percent rating; she was absent when one of the votes in question was taken.
The group’s voting record report on all legislators is HERE. The list of ‘champions’ with 100 percent records is HERE. Here’s the news release:
David Fowler, President of Family Action of Tennessee, Inc., today announced the names of those state legislators designated by the organization as Champions of the Family. Champions of the Family are those state legislators who had a 100% voting record on various pieces of state legislation followed by Family Action during the 2011-2012 General Assembly.
“Those legislators who have received our highest designation as a Champion of the Family are those whose votes have shown that they understand the critical importance of marriage, family, life, and religious liberty to the future well-being of our state. We heartily applaud their unwavering stand on behalf of the families of Tennessee,” said Mr. Fowler.
David Fowler, president of the Family Action Council of Tennessee, worries that too many people are on food stamps, and they are becoming dependent on government handouts, reports The Tennessean. His solution, posted on his personal Facebook page, is to follow the advice of the National Park Service: “Do not feed the animals.”
“Their stated reason for the policy is because the animals will grow dependent on handouts and will not learn to take care of themselves,” Fowler wrote in the post. “This ends today’s lesson.”
Similar advice has been used by conservative politicians and pundits to criticize the federal food stamp program, known officially as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program. Both the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives have proposed reducing funding for the program, which serves about 46 million Americans.
Fowler’s remarks angered Jennifer Bailey, an outreach specialist at Community Food Advocates in Nashville, a nonprofit that helps people get food stamps and works on local problems with hunger.
She said the “don’t feed the animals” comparison dehumanizes food stamp recipients.
“It removes the human face of hunger,” she said. “No human being is without dignity. That is something that should be remembered.”
…(Fowler) He said that he believes all people should be treated with dignity and that all people are made in God’s image.
“The obvious point of the post is that government can foster and create dependence on government,” he said. “Government creating human dependence on government demeans human dignity and is antithetical to human freedom government is intended to protect.”
He said he would be more careful about future Facebook posts.
About 15 people signed up to become members of the Secular Coalition for America in Tennessee in an organizing conference call last week, according to The Tennessean. The idea is to organize a state chapter for lobbying to keep religion out of public policy. (Previous post HERE.) But their critics say that atheists and other nonbelievers are part of a new secular religion that’s pushing for special privileges. … Nick Curry, 24, of Nashville, who calls himself a secular humanist, hopes to join the local Secular Coalition chapter. He grew up Lutheran in Franklin but dropped out as a teenager because he stopped believing what his church taught about God.
Curry said he’s not hostile to people who believe in God. But he’s concerned about politicians who want to bring their religious beliefs into politics and about religious groups that get money from the state.
“Secular humanists don’t care what you believe,” he said. “That’s on you. But don’t bring that into public policy.”
…David Fowler, head of the Family Action Council of Tennessee, disagrees.
Fowler’s organization is one of about 10 Tennessee nonprofits with religious ties that are registered to lobby with the state. He argues that atheism or secular humanism, like other religions, is a set of beliefs that shape people’s morals.
“The atheists don’t want beliefs about God to influence public policy,” he said. “But they do want their own beliefs about God’s nonexistence to influence public policy.”
Thaddeus Schwartz, the leader of Secular Life, a social group for local nonbelievers with about 800 members, said atheists have moral and ethical principles, but those principles are different from a religion.
Calling atheism a religion is “like calling bald a hair color,” he said.
Schwartz said he’s supportive of the Secular Coalition because of its emphasis on the separation of church and state and because the group is not openly hostile to religion.
He does worry that society thinks nonbelievers are bad people because they don’t believe in God. He said he doesn’t need God to tell him what is right and what is wrong.
Following through with an intention announced earlier, Gov. Bill Haslam on Monday vetoed the so-called “Vanderbilt all-comers bill” passed by the Legislature earlier this month, according to his press secretary.
David Fowler, president of the Family Action Council of Tennessee, had drafted the legislation, lobbied it in the General Assembly and then led a campaign to conviince the governor to change his mind and not veto the bill.
Here’s a statement issued by Fowler on the veto: Although we have not been able to obtain confirmation from the Governor’s office itself, it is our understanding that on Monday Governor Haslam vetoed Senate Bill 3597.
Obviously the outcome is not what had been hoped for by our organization, national conservative organizations, the bill sponsors, the campus ministries that will probably be disbanded, and the nearly sixty percent of the legislature that voted for the bill.
We share the Governor’s desire that government regulation of private businesses be held to the minimum, but our civil rights laws are a prime example of government regulating a private business when fundamental values are at risk. And there is no doubt that religious liberty is a fundamental American value.
In our view the bill was effectively a 13 month “temporary injunction” designed to protect these student religious organizations while the law applicable to Vanderbilt’s all-comer’s policies was being sorted out. Under the circumstances, we thought the bill was an appropriate course to take to avoid irreparable harm to organizations that will now most likely be disbanded.
Gov. Bill Haslam told reporters Wednesday that he doesn’t think bills dealing with sexual orientation are the best use of lawmakers’ time this session, according to TNReport. Haslam was asked specifically about whether he sees a connection between bills such as one to ban teaching about homosexuality in lower grades and two teen suicides in as many months by Middle Tennessee students who were reportedly bullied for being gay.
“Obviously, that’s not the environment we want to set in Tennessee,” he said. “In terms of legislation, I think there’s better things for us to focus on this year.”
…The topic of much conversation Wednesday was the bill known to critics as the “Right-to-Bully.”
The original version of the bill, sponsored by Rep. Vance Dennis, R-Savannah, and Sen. Jim Tracy, R-Shelbyville, was filed last year but never came to a vote in either chamber. Talking to reporters Wednesday, Family Action Council of Tennessee president David Fowler said the bill’s language had been reworked and that a new version would be filed Thursday. Fowler is a former GOP state senator from Signal Mountain.
Fowler acknowledged the bill’s original language was “apparently not sufficient to communicate what we were trying to do.” The initial bill had drawn national criticism for language that critics said would protect bullying, as long as it was done on religious or political grounds.
But Fowler said the bill’s aim is actually to reduce bullying in public schools — but without infringing on the rights of students’ to engage in free speech and religious expression.
“We have to appreciate that the same First Amendment that is disregarded today to suppress speech you don’t like, is the principle that tomorrow may be used to suppress your speech,” he said. “So, we have to appreciate the First Amendment cuts both ways.”
As for the new version of the bill, Fowler said it would try to define situations that called for action by school administrators.
“Specifically, if a student reports harm to themselves or their property, or the threat of harm to themselves or their property, that in itself should be enough to demand that the administrator investigate that situation, take action, and in our bill what is done would need to be reported to others who can monitor the situation,” he said.
NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — Conservative activist David Fowler of Signal Mountain favors legislative efforts to discourage student bullying but his group disagrees with providing special consideration for gay students.
Fowler, a former Republican state senator, is president of the Family Action Council of Tennessee. The group’s December newsletter says it wants “to make sure (the legislation) protects the religious liberty and free speech rights of students who want to express their views on homosexuality.”
Fowler told the Chattanooga Times Free Press that “the purpose is to stop bullying, not create special classes of people who are more important than others” (http://bit.ly/AtE2TD ).
Leaders of the gay rights advocacy group Tennessee Equality Project contend the legislation would give students a “license to bully” by allowing them to hide their irrational biases behind an extreme religious belief.
The Senate sponsor of changes to the bullying law, Sen. Jim Tracy, R-Shelbville, is “reviewing the legislation” and will likely “narrow” the current bill, a Tracy aide said Tuesday.
The bill backed by Fowler says anti-bullying programs and measures can’t use materials or training that “explicitly or implicitly promote a political agenda (and) make the characteristics of the victim the focus rather than the conduct of the person engaged in harassment, intimidation, or bullying.”
In a posting on the Tennessee Equality Project’s website, the group’s president, Jonathan Cole, said things were difficult for gay students last year. He referred to the suicide of Jacob Rogers, a student who experienced years of anti-gay bullying at Cheatham County Central High School in Ashland City.
Cole said the legislation will only increase risks to students.
Fowler said gays are “not the only people who get insulted. The thing we need to concentrate on is not whether the characteristics of the victim justify being protected but on the conduct of the person engaging in the bullying while respecting constitutional rights.”
Jeff Woods has been “dipping his beak” into the pile of correspondence released by three Republican state legislators in connection with a lawsuit challenging a bill that repeals a Nashville anti-discrimination ordinance.
He highlights an email to Sen. Mae Beavers, R-Mount Juliet, from David Fowler, lobbyists for the Family Action Council of Tennessee. Fowler shockingly treats Beavers like a puppet on a string (does the Christian fundamentalist lobby really hold such power in Nashville?) and instructs her precisely what to say about the Tennessee Family Action Council’s bill. He obviously views Beavers as not exactly the sharpest knife in the drawer, but useful just the same as his bill’s sponsor.
“The bill itself is not that complicated,” Fowler writes. “We don’t need more regulation of business and business sure doesn’t need the 348 different cities coming up with their own ideas of what a discriminatory practice is. That’s the line and you just repeat it like Glen Casada did last night when the bill passed the House 73 to 24.”
“Will the homosexuals be upset?” Fowler then asks. “Sure. But to be honest, they seem to be rather resigned on this bill.”
…. It’s not clear whether any of this will help the plaintiffs in the gay rights lawsuit. They need to prove that lawmakers adopted their law, not for their stated purpose of preventing burdensome new business regulations, but because of bias against gay people.
Fowler’s email can be read either way. The bill stops confusing business regulations–“that’s the line” he wants Beavers to recite. It’s certainly Fowler’s script. It may (or may not) be subterfuge.
The emails in Beavers’ file show a lot of people obsessed with gay bashing, but there’s no smoking gun.
BlueCross BlueShield of Tennessee’s inclusion of gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender business owners in a push for supplier diversity is generating fire and brimstone from a conservative Christian advocacy group headed by former state Sen. David Fowler…. and Andy Sher has the story. In an email, the one-time Signal Mountain attorney who is now president of the Family Action Council of Tennessee accuses the Chattanooga-based insurer of having “officially joined the ‘culture wars’ with a quiet little move.”
“Appears that the insurer is trading in its traditional blue for a rainbow of colors,” jabbed Fowler, alluding to the color blue BlueCross uses in promotions and the multicolored gay-pride flag.
He cites an Aug. 24 letter BlueCross sent to company suppliers. In it, BlueCross states the company, through its Supplier Diversity Team, is “passionately adopting the spirit of diversity within its supplier business relationships,” including lesbian-, gay-, bisexual- and transgender-owned businesses.
Fowler said that if BlueCross is “so passionate” about the issue, “where were the press releases? Maybe they didn’t want to be too ‘loud’ about it because they didn’t want all their conservative, pro-family premium payers to realize that their premium dollars were going to support the advancement and cultural acceptance of homosexual conduct.”
…BlueCross spokeswoman Mary Danielson said diversity outreach is nothing new for the nonprofit insurers, which has private pay customers but also extensive state and federal government contracts.
“BlueCross is committed to supplier diversity as a good business practice,” Danielson said by email. “As part of that effort we regularly mail a supplier self certification form to our 3,000 vendors. We mail this form to update their business classification records in our system. Those classifications, provided by the federal government, cover a range of groups.
“Additionally,” Danielson said, “maintaining accurate vendor record information is a federal requirement when serving as a government contractor.”
..(Fowler) speculated that BlueCross’ move may stem from what he says was a backlash from national gay organizations this spring after the Republican-controlled General Assembly passed a Fowler-generated bill that banned cities from enacting ordinances banning anti-gay discrimination by local government-contractors.