By Erik Schelzig, Associated Press
NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Gov. Bill Haslam’s administration is responding to what it calls “confusion” about the role of a Muslim staffer and a council that has advised two state departments on Islamic affairs.
The Republican governor was criticized this summer by several GOP groups over what they perceived as the growing influence of a version of the Islamic code called Shariah in state government.
(Note: There’s a website devoted to criticizing the governor on the subject, HERE, featuring a picture of “Bill Hislam” with President Obama.)
Claude Ramsey, the deputy to the governor, sent a letter distributed to the state GOP’s executive committee last week seeking to quell those concerns.
“I want to start by clearly expressing there is no effort by the Haslam administration, the State of Tennessee, or any agency or department of the State to promote or advance Shariah law or Shariah complaint finance,” he said in the letter.
“The promotion or advancement of religious ideology is an inappropriate role of state government that is unacceptable, and will not happen during this administration.”
Woody Degan, who is challenging Senate Majority Leader Mark Norris in the Aug. 2 Republican primary, says the Department of Economic Development has hired a woman to make the department compliant with Sharia law.
Not so, says Politifact Tennessee.
Here’s the Degan quote:
“They’re making our Economic Development department Sharia compliant. They hired Samar Ali, who came directly from the Obama administration, who specializes in Sharia compliance. That’s what her job is.”
Ruling on the truth of that statement: “Pants on Fire.”
NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — A Nashville hotel has canceled a conference by the Sharia Awareness Action Network, saying it was concerned the speakers include “extremists” with a history of contentious events.
The “Preserving Freedom Conference” had been scheduled for Nov. 11 at the Hutton Hotel near downtown. The hotel in a statement Monday said it has to be “mindful of the safety, security and peace of mind of its guests.”
The hotel cited reports by the Anti-Defamation League and Southern Poverty Law Center about speakers Pamela Geller and Robert Spencer of the group Stop Islamization of America, adding that they have “a history of controversy and contention surrounding their appearances.”
A post on Geller’s website said the hotel had “caved to Islamic supremacist demands” and urged supporters to call the hotel’s management to complain.
News release from Senate Republican Caucus
(NASHVILLE, TN), March 22, 2011 — Senate Republican Caucus Chairman Bill Ketron (R-Murfreesboro) and House Speaker Pro Tempore Judd Matheny (R-Tullahoma) today said they will offer an amendment to their anti-terrorism bill aimed at curbing the incidence of homegrown terrorist acts in the state before they occur. The amendment, which ensures an even-handed and non-discriminatory approach, addresses those individuals that knowingly provide material support to known designated terrorist entities in Tennessee.
“As amended, this bill has absolutely no references to any specific religion,” said Representative Matheny. “It is about protecting our citizens from those who would use religious doctrine as a justification to commit criminal activities or terrorist acts.”
“The revision reflects our original intention to prevent or deter violent or terrorist acts, but does so without any room for misinterpretation regarding the language’s affect on peaceful religious practices,” added Senator Ketron. “Rep. Matheny and I asked our legislative attorneys to rework this bill to reflect this as clearly as possible so there would be no confusion regarding this matter. The result is a stronger bill that gets at the problem of material support for homegrown terrorism, without any doubt that it does not impact peaceful religious practices of any religion.”
The bill, named the Material Support to Designated Entities Act of 2011, builds on the Terrorism Prevention and Response Act of 2002 which passed the Tennessee General Assembly after the 9-11 terrorist attacks. That law only addresses terrorist acts after they occur by prescribing criminal penalties for those who are convicted under the act. Ketron and Matheny say their bill helps prevent terrorist acts by cutting off the avenues of support that often enable the violence.
“The existing Tennessee statute does not reach planned acts of terrorism because the existing law requires that the terrorist act must have already occurred,” added Ketron. “A material support statute is preventative in that it criminalizes the aid that makes an attack more likely to occur.”
The bill provides that the Director of Tennessee’s Office of Homeland Security can make a recommendation to the Attorney General and the Governor to “designate” a terrorist entity, effectively isolating them from support. Once designated, no material support or resources as defined in the bill may be provided to the designated entity. Thereafter, anyone who provides material support or resources knowing that the designation has been made, may be prosecuted or fined under the bill. In addition, it prescribes procedures to challenge, revoke, or amend a designation. The legislation is closely modeled after the federal anti-terrorism material support statutes which have been upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court.
An August 2010 background report showed 21 U.S. citizens were charged in such cases in 2009 and another 20 were charged in 2010 between January and August.
“The amendment provides a powerful counterterrorism tool to state and local law enforcement enabling them to act decisively before acts of terrorism are committed,” added Matheny. “We have to get it right every time, they only have to get it right once. So far, I have received positive feedback regarding the revised amendment from those in my community who were concerned about the bill.”
Faulk Upbeat on Breastfeeding Bill
State Sen. Mike Faulk admits his public breast-feeding legislation has made people “a little squeamish,” but he is confident about its passage, reports Hank Hayes. “It’s not unanimous, but it’s overwhelmingly positive,” Faulk, R-Church Hill, said of the legislative feedback the bill has received. “The e-mails (coming to his legislative e-mail account) are 50 to 1 in favor, and that’s probably on the conservative side. The medical community is in favor of it. … Channel 2 Nashville, it was their lead story (Thursday) night.”
The bill is advancing toward floor votes in the Tennessee House and Senate amid an uneasy discussion in a Senate committee last Wednesday.
Faulk’s bill would allow mothers to publicly breast-feed a child regardless of the child’s age and without the mother being prosecuted for public indecency or indecent exposure. Sharia Bill Revision in Works
Senator Bill Ketron has met with some of his Muslim constituents about a bill they say will make it a felony to practice their religion, according to WPLN Ketron and the Muslims both come from Murfreesboro. But this was their first meeting since the senator introduced a bill to outlaw Sharia, which Muslims and religious authorities say is a guide to living – like Jewish Halaka, or the Christian emphasis on the Ten Commandments.
Remziya Suleyman, of the Tennessee Immigrant & Refugee Rights Coalition, says the small group of Muslims from Murfreesboro was encouraged.
“We were told that there would be an amendment to the bill that would take away any conversation, or really, notation of, Sharia.” Ketron had previously told reporters he would submit an amendment to simplify the controversial bill. But making the comment to the Muslims may have helped bridge a gap, says Suleyman. Watson Accepts Haslam Challenge
During this week’s State of the State address, Gov. Bill Haslam gave an unexpected shout-out and challenge to Sen. Bo Watson, R-Hixson, reports Andy Sher. Watson is chairman of the Senate Government Operations Committee, which is responsible for the periodic review of state agencies, boards and commissions as well as of administrative rules and regulations.
Haslam asked the General Assembly to begin “reviewing every board and commission. Determine whether 140 boards and commissions are necessary.” Noting Watson’s role as chairman, Haslam said “for 18 months he and his colleagues have been looking at this issue, and they have made progress. We can and should do more.”
Said Watson later: “I like it.” Eliminating more likely will be a challenge though, politically speaking, Watson said. Pitts on Penalizing Funeral Protests
Clarksville’s state Rep. Joe Pitts is pushing legislation that increases the penalty on those who protest against the nation’s soldiers at Tennessee funerals, reports the Clarksville Leaf-Chronicle. “I want everyone to know they have a constitutional right to protest against our nation and the brave individuals who have fought for all of us, but violating prescribed boundaries and proving disruptive will mean a stiffer penalty than before,” Pitts said in a news release.
A recent Supreme Court ruling upheld the right of free speech relating to certain groups protesting at funerals, but also affirmed that protestors must comply with police guidance on where the picketing can be staged. Under Tennessee law, disorderly conduct within 500 feet of a funeral or funeral procession it a misdemeanor, the release said.