Tag Archives: religion

DCS investigates reported hazing, sexual assault at religious football camp

A Tennessee Department of Children’s Services spokesperson confirmed Monday the agency’s involvement in an investigation into allegations of hazing and sexual assault at a religious football camp held at Tennessee Technological University in Cookeville, reports the Johnson City Press. So far, the investigation has led to suspension of four students David Crockett High School in Johnson City.

Rob Johnson, DCS director of communications, said a call to the department’s hotline reporting an incident at a Fellowship of Christian Athletes football camp at Cookeville’s Tennessee Technological University two weeks ago prompted an investigation by the department.

That call was placed by a school administrator, Washington County Director of Schools Ron Dykes said, shortly after the district and the Johnson City Press received emails on July 23 from an anonymous tipster claiming freshman football players were pinned down while older students rubbed their genitals on the younger boys’ faces.

More than 60 Crockett football players attended the team-building workshop organized by the FCA in mid-July, attending religious services and athletic practices while staying in the college’s on-campus dorms.

School administrators previously said the incident likely occurred in the dorms, where the students and their chaperones slept on different floors.

With Children’s Services investigators assigned to the case, Johnson said the matter could be explored by a child protective investigation team, provided for by state law.

The child protective investigation team, or CPIT, is statutorily comprised of law enforcement members, prosecutors, DCS workers and children’s advocacy representatives, and is tasked with investigating allegations of child abuse and determining whether children are still under threat.

Speaking generally, Johnson said if the DCS and CPIT investigations reveal evidence of a crime, law enforcement and the district attorney general’s office holding jurisdiction could decide to pursue charges.

…James Murphy, Washington County Schools’ secondary director of attendance and discipline, said two seniors and two underclassmen have so far been remanded to alternative school after the district’s own investigation.

More on legislature’s biblical debate

Committees of the House and Senate committee have approved a bill declaring the Holy Bible as Tennessee’s official state book despite objections from religious leaders — along with Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey and Senate Majority Leader Mark Norris — who argued that they may be demeaning the sacred book purported to be honored.

The Senate State and Local Government Committee approved the bill 7-0 with two abstaining. The House State Government Committee approved the bill (HB615) by a voice vote after adding an amendment.

“For God’s sake, think about where you’re headed,” said Senate Majority Leader Mark Norris, R-Collierville, in appealing for members of the Senate State and Local Government Committee to abstain from voting one way or the other on SB1108.

“I’m not asking you to vote against it. I’m asking you to pass (abstain). I understand the politics,” Norris said, acknowledging that a no vote would be construed by political opponents as “voting against the Bible.”

To himself, Norris said, the Bible “is sacred, not merely secular… It’s more than a rock or a salamander.”

Tennessee has a long list of official state symbols, including the state rock (limestone) and designation of the cave salamander as official state amphibian. Including the Bible in such a list, he said, is inappropriate.

A group of religious leaders appeared before the committee offering similar statements. Michael Williams, senior pastor of West End United Methodist Church in Nashville, praised the sentiment behind the bill sponsored by Sen. Steve Southerland, R-Morristown, and Rep. Jerry Sexton, R-Bean Station, but said it was misguided.

Southerland and Sexton, both speaking before the Senate committee, said the bill is not intended to advance one religion over another, but rather to recognize the Bible for his historic importance in guiding the culture and policies of Tennessee.

“My purpose to memorialize the role the Bible has played in Tennessee history,” said Southerland, noting both he and Sexton are Baptist ministers. Sexton echoed his remarks and contended that the bill in no way demeans the Bible, simply acknowledging it place in state history.

“I don’t believe you can diminish it (the Bible) if you tried,” Sexton said.
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Memphis Muslim scholar/college prof a ‘primary target’ of ISIS

A professor at Rhodes College in Memphis who teaches a class on Muslim fundamentalism has become a “primary target” of ISIS, according to Commercial Appeal columnist David Waters.

“Now when I talk about ISIS and radical Islam, I become the subject of my own lecture,” said Dr. Yasir Qadhi, also a resident scholar at the Memphis Islamic Center.

ISIS has declared the Memphis cleric an apostate (murtadd in Arabic) and called for his assassination.

“The murtadd Yasir Qadhi condemned the assault on Charlie Hebdo,” ISIS declared next to Qadhi’s photo in Dabiq, the so-called Islamic State’s online propaganda magazine.

“There is no doubt that such deeds are apostasy. There is great reward awaiting the Muslim in the Hereafter if he kills these apostate imams.”

…(F)ew if any Memphis clerics have had as much global influence as Qadhi, one of ISIS’s most vocal and theologically grounded critics.

“That Yasir is a Muslim scholar should be worth more respect and endearment for him, considering he is one of us and lives among us,” said Dr. Nadeem Zafar, a professor at UT Health Science Center.

Qadhi has denounced ISIS in forums and publications in Europe as well as the U.S. He debunks ISIS ideology and calls it “McSharia.”

“They’ve constructed their own legal code to justify their crimes,” Qadhi said. “This band of death fanatics, this cult, is not just fighting America. They’re fighting everybody. They’ve killed more Muslims than non-Muslims.”

How does it feel to targeted by name by one of the world’s most dangerous and despicable gang? Qadhi said he is more honored and humbled than horrified. He sees it as a sign of ISIS’s inherent weakness.

On Haslam’s talk with Obama and Biblical addition to Insure TN speech

Perhaps the most interesting part of Gov. Bill Haslam’s Insure Tennessee speech Monday night – relating a conversation with President Obama – was a late addition and not included in the prepared text distributed to media.

The governor said that, in a meeting with governors, the president was asked by a Republican why he did not make Medicaid a block grant program – just giving states the federal money and not imposing rules on how its spent.

“In, I guess, a moment of true candor,” Haslam said, Obama looked at the governor and said, “Because I don’t trust you to take care of the least of these.”

As the next gubernatorial speaker, Haslam said, he told Obama that “with all due respect,” Republican governors ran “so that we can take care of the least of these. I think it’s one of our most solemn obligations of government.”

“I’ve realized it’s not just the president that thinks that. As a Republican elected leader, I feel like we owe the country answers as to what we would do about health care… For too long, we’ve said what we don’t like — mainly Obamacare. Well, this is a chance to show what we would do.”

“This is also an issue about who we are. My faith doesn’t allow me to walk on the other side of the road and ignore a need that can be met. Particularly in this case, when the need is Tennesseans who have life-threatening situations without access to health care…. when the need can be met like this one can, without cost to our state, with money that our state is currently being taxed for and is sent elsewhere, and with a plan that can help answer one our nation’s biggest issues.”

WPLN reports
that reference to the Gospel wasn’t lost on lawmakers. But several, like Sen. Kerry Roberts (R-Springfield), said their obligation is to constituents.

“That’s in the Bible, not the Constitution,” he said of the Good Samaritan. “It’s not a political mandate.”

Many GOP lawmakers say they’re concerned about the financial impact on the state, even though hospitals and the federal government have committed to cover the full cost of expansion.

… Asked if the governor’s speech had moved Insure Tennessee any closer to passage, Rep. Glen Casada (R-Franklin) said no.

“You know, as I walked through the hallways, the members were getting up and leaving,” he said. “I didn’t hear one single member say, ‘Wow, I’ve changed my mind.’

Bible-minded cities: Chattanooga No. 2, Tri-Cities 3, Knoxville 11, Memphis 27

Chattanooga is rated the nation’s second most “Bible-minded city” and the Tennessee’s Tri-Cities area – Bristol, Johnson City and Kingsport – is third, according a rating by the American Bible Society and Barna Group.

Knoxville came in at No. 11, Nashville 14th and Memphis 27th among the 100 cities listed. Birmingham is at the top of the list. Providence, R.I., at the bottom. (Note: Full list HERE.)

The Johnson City Press has a write-up on the report:

Results were drawn from a survey by the evangelical Christian polling firm, in which participants were considered “Bible-minded” if they had read the Bible at least once in the previous week and if they took a literal interpretation of scripture.

Ben Proffitt, director of missions for the Holston Baptist Association, and Dr. Vic Young, founder of Fountain of Life Bible Church in Johnson City, both celebrated the news that the home to their congregations are seen to be among the nation’s most Bible-minded.

“That’s quite impressive if we’re third in the country,” Young said.

He said his church’s emphasis on Bible literacy and defense of the Bible and its contents has been fruitful, with many of those whose interest was sparked at Fountain of Life Bible Church going on to start an education and career in theology, which often sends them to start their own churches.

…Proffitt also puts a lot of stock into the amount of Biblical education a person has.

“I’m enthused to hear this,” he said. “Maybe I’m a little surprised because I feel much of this generation is Biblically illiterate.”

…Tim Brent, an organizer with the Tri-Cities Happy Atheists and a local online freethinker meet-up group that has nearly 200 members, doesn’t see the third-place designation as good news for the area, although he understands many will celebrate being deemed more Bible-minded than most cities across the country.

“It’s certainly not one of surprise,“ Brent said. ”We know where we live.“

Religious leaders fear Islamic indoctrination via Common Core

While Tennessee’s adoption of the Common Core State Standards is being scrutinized on the governmental level, members of the Tri-Cities religious community extended that scrutiny to include a spiritual one as well, reports the Johnson City Press.

On Tuesday evening at Fountain of Life Bible Church, more than 100 people were in attendance as community and religious leaders denounced the standards as harmful and seditious to the American way of life.

“The Common Core curriculum is destroying America from within,” said Scott Parker, the church’s youth pastor. “They’re attempting to stunt the spiritual growth of our youth (and) they’re destroying the principles and values that the country was built on.”

…(M)ost of the concerns voiced were toward a section of the 7th-grade social studies curriculum that was adopted by the state board of education in June of 2013 which dealt with the Islamic World. Craig Honeycutt, whose daughter is a 7th-grade student in the Bristol City Schools system, said he grew concerned over the standards when he learned she would spend four weeks studying the Islamic world.

“Why do we need to give Islam four weeks?” Honeycutt said. “If you want to teach a few days of Islam in a historic aspect, I’m fine with that. What you’re going to find … is anything but historic It’s indoctrination, it’s religion, it’s theology, it’s philosophy, (and) it’s how to convert.”

According to the Tennessee Department of Education website, during those four weeks — which are included in the literacy in social studies subsection of the Tennessee state standards — “students analyze the geographic, political, economic, social, and religious structures of the (Islamic) civilizations.” During those four weeks, students are expected to learn the geography of the Arabian Peninsula and the surrounding area, along with some of the region’s and culture’s contributions to art, architecture, science and literature, among others.

What concerned Honeycutt, however, were the areas of study that focused on the religion of Islam, which included studying the Qu’ran, the teachings of Muhammad and the link between it and Judaism and Christianity. Specifically, he listed the teaching of the five pillars of Islam — which are five acts that are deemed essential to Muslims — as troubling.

“This makes me mad,” he said. “The first pillar of Islam is called Shahada; it is a brief prayer proclaiming the oneness of God and faith in Islam. Children … memorize the Shahada as an action which introduces them to the Islamic community. … Would you want your children doing that?

“The Bible says this, Romans 10:9, ‘If thou shalt confess with thy mouth, “the lord Jesus” and believe in thy heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.’ Try teaching that verse and a Christian perspective in a public school and see how far you get.”

UPDATE NOTE: Columnist Pam Strickland says Parker seems, well, misinformed.
There are a few problems with Parker’s rants. First, the state’s social studies standards, from kindergarten through 12th grade, aren’t based on the Common Core. The social studies standards, as adopted by the state Board of Education in July 2013, were written by a committee of Tennessee educators from rural and urban districts. One of the educators who helped write the standards, including those for the seventh grade that Parker doesn’t like, is Judy Newgent, Knox County social studies specialist.

Fired Muslim state trooper’s lawsuit gets green light from federal judge

A Knoxville-based state trooper who is a Sunni Muslim contends he lost his job after being labeled a potential Jihadist, reports the News-Sentinel.

Now, a federal judge is giving the green light to a trial in U.S. District Court in a religious discrimination lawsuit filed on behalf of fired Tennessee Highway Patrol Trooper De’Ossie Dingus against the state Department of Safety.

U.S. District Judge Tena Campbell has set a Nov. 17 trial date after ruling a recorded conversation between a military liaison and a Department of Safety commander is proof on its face the agency fired Dingus based on an unsupported conclusion Dingus was ripe to be “turned” into a terrorist.

The 2010 firing of Dingus has its roots in a November 2009 training session for troopers by Department of Homeland Security military liaison Maj. Kevin Taylor. The topic was supposed to be “weapons of mass destruction,” but Dingus said a video shown during the training “detailed the radicalization of three young boys by their father at a Madrassa (Islamic religious school) in Pakistan,” Campbell’s ruling states.

After class, Dingus registered a complaint with Taylor and, later, THP. Taylor leveled his own complaint in which he alleged Dingus had been belligerent and disruptive during the class and confrontational after it. The class came just a few days before a Muslim soldier opened fire on his comrades at Fort Hood in Texas, a fact Taylor would later note.

Sgt. Ron Crockarell with the safety department’s Office of Professional Responsibility was assigned to investigate.

All 35 troopers in the class denied Dingus was disruptive or confrontational either before or after class. A slew of Dingus’ co-workers told Crockarell that Dingus was a pleasant man and hard-worker who never mentioned his faith, Campbell wrote.

But Taylor, who had just returned from a tour in Afghanistan, insisted in a recorded interview with Crockarell that Dingus was one upset away from being a prime target for conversion into a terrorist.

“I’ve seen that type of mentality before,” Taylor said. “I don’t get scared all that often (but) I mean, if the right person pushed the right buttons with him, because in his belief system … his life means nothing as long as it’s in the pursuit of Ali (sic).”

Note: Text of the judge’s decision is HERE.

U.S. Supreme Court won’t consider stopping Murfreesboro mosque

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — The U.S. Supreme Court has refused to hear the appeal of a group of neighbors who tried unsuccessfully to block the construction of a mosque in Murfreesboro, Tennessee.

A board member of the Islamic Center of Murfreesboro said he was hopeful that Monday’s announcement by the court will bring unity back into the community.

“We’re relieved, we’re excited, we’re happy,” said Saleh Sbenaty. “We always believed in our justice system, and we believed that justice would always prevail in this country, and we had no doubt that the Supreme Court would make the right decision.” Sbenaty said outsiders have come into Murfreesboro with a national agenda against Islam. The decision, he said, brings to a close the years long case.

It’s not clear what opponents of the mosque will do next.

“It’s in the Lord’s hands,” said Joe Brandon Jr., one of the attorneys who represented the group opposed to the center. “We have done all we can do.” He declined to comment any further.

Neighbors have been arguing since 2010 that approval for construction was illegal. They contended there wasn’t enough public notice for a meeting when the planning commission approved the project. The mosque was built anyway as the case moved through the local court system, because a federal judge ruled that it would be a violation of religious freedom and land-use rights not to allow Muslims to use the center.

The Tennessee Court of Appeals had already ruled that the public notice for the meeting that ultimately approved construction of the center complied with state law. The neighbors appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court after the Tennessee Supreme Court refused to hear the case.

Opponents of the mosque have now filed suit against plans to build a cemetery on the Islamic Center property.

Construction of the 12,000-aquare foot center has divided this college town about 30 miles southeast of Nashville. Vandals set fire to construction equipment and someone spray-painted the words “not welcome” on a sign.

House, Senate disagree on placement of ‘In God We Trust’

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — A bill calling for the phrase “In God We Trust” to be painted in the tunnel that connects the Tennessee Capitol and the Legislative Plaza has been approved by the House.

The measure originally sought to require the phrase to be displayed above the main Capitol entrances and behind the speakers’ podiums in both the House and Senate.

But the measure was amended in the House Finance Committee to instead instruct State Capitol Commission to study the feasibility of painting the national motto in the tunnel. The Senate, however, approved the original version on a 21-0 vote earlier this week.

Lawmakers must now work out differences in the legislation before it heads to the governor’s desk.

The state adopted its official slogan “Tennessee — America at Its Best” in 1965. The words “Agriculture and Commerce” from the state seal were adopted as the official state motto in 1987.

Liquor lobby: WIGS should get rid of Tennessee’s ‘draconian Blue Law’ and allow Sunday booze sales

One issue in the great WIGS (wine in grocery stores) debate is whether supermarkets, if the bill passes, will be permitted to sell fruit of the vine on Sundays. As drafted, the bill permits Sunday sales – just as beer sales are permitted now in most areas by supermarkets. At the same time, it leaves in place provisions of current law requiring liquor stores to be closed on Sundays.

The bill is up for vote Tuesday in the House Local Government Committee, where a much-anticipated new amendment will be unveiled – maybe addressing Sunday sales, maybe not. Now, a day before the deal worked out by lobbyists is disclosed, a national liquor lobby weighs in with the following.

News release from the Distilled Spirits Council:
Nashville, TN – As state lawmakers and proponents of wine in grocery stores near a deal on legislation to modernize Tennessee’s alcohol laws, the Distilled Spirits Council (DISCUS) today urged that any agreement include an end to the state’s restrictive ban on seven day alcohol sales.

According to DISCUS, Tennessee maintains one of the most draconian Blue Law bans on alcohol sales in the country, despite Tennessee’s heritage and distilling industry history – home to 10 operating distilleries across the state. DISCUS encouraged legislators to protect – not punish – these growing businesses as this legislation begins to move.

“Any bill that transfers foot traffic from liquor stores to grocery stores but fails to compensate liquor store owners with an extra day of sales is going to hurt those businesses and hurt Tennessee distillers who depend on those sales,” said DISCUS Vice President Dale Szyndrowski.

“Distillers across the state have invested millions in bringing back Tennessee’s distilling heritage. Changing the rules on distillers without considering their position in the market will cut the legs out from under them and put them at a major competitive disadvantage. As policymakers modernize Tennessee liquor laws, allowing local option seven day sales should certainly be part of any package,” he said.

Szyndrowski said that in addition to increasing consumer convenience and small business flexibility, seven day sales would bring in millions in additional revenue for the state. A recent economic analysis found that an extra day of statewide sales of wine and spirits in Tennessee would generate between $3.3 and $4.6 million in additional tax revenues annually.

Szyndrowski further pointed out that across America, 16 states have allowed seven day alcohol sales since 2002 for a total of 39 states.