Tennessee Legislators Want to Make It Easier for Christians to Proselytize During School Functions

Representatives in Tennessee are trying to pass something called the “Religious Viewpoints Antidiscrimination Act.” Sounds awesome. Antidiscrimination?! Who’d be against that?!

You. Here’s why.

The bill would make it easier for “select students” to use their leadership positions in public schools as grounds to preach their religious (or anti-religious) beliefs.

The same bill was vetoed in Oklahoma and caused all sorts of controversy in Texas after it was passed there in 2007.

Also — let’s be honest here — most non-Christian students have no desire to proselytize during school hours. That’s almost exclusively a Christian thing to do. When was the last time a Hindu student preached at a school assembly? Have we ever been up in arms about a Wiccan speaking at a high school graduation? Of course not. This bill would be a legal shield, protecting Christians when they proselytize during graduation, football games, morning announcements, etc.

The American Civil Liberties Union in Tennessee warns that [Rep. Andy] Holt’s bill would subject children “to unwarranted prayer and proselytizing in a variety of inappropriate settings, including the classroom, school-day assemblies and school events.”

At least one Republican saw the obvious problem here:

House Education Committee Chairman Richard Montgomery, R-Sevierville, said that, while he backs the bill, “there is one thing we need to make clear. There is going to be some turmoil out there. As long as your religion is being spoken … everything’s absolutely fine.

“But whenever it does come to, whether it be a Wiccan or a Muslim or whatever, a lot of our community is going to get up in arms that don’t believe in that. You’re going to have an uproar out of this world in a lot of communities because something’s being talked about and speech is being made totally against 99 percent of what the community believes in.

So there are two ways to handle this.

1) If you live in Tennessee, contact your state Representatives and tell them to vote against HB 3616. Then contact your state Senators and tell them to vote against SB 3632. Let’s stop this bill before it becomes a law.

2) Let’s suppose the bill becomes a law. Then we need students who are atheists, Wiccans, Muslims, Jews, Hindus, etc. to use every opportunity they get to preach their beliefs. Make it as uncomfortable as possible for the Christian majority. Force them to repeal the law. It’ll be a hilarious way to protest this idiotic plan.

About Hemant Mehta

Hemant Mehta is the chair of Foundation Beyond Belief and a high school math teacher in the suburbs of Chicago. He began writing the Friendly Atheist blog in 2006. His latest book is called The Young Atheist's Survival Guide.

  • gski

    So they want to pass a law the community does not need and that they acknowledge will divide the community.  I wonder what level of turmoil are they willing to accept to garner votes.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100001627228091 Alexander Ryan

    I almost wish scenario #2 were to be the solid reality, because I’m dying to see how they would handle the situation. 

    • http://www.zazzle.com/atheist_tees The Godless Monster

       They’d backpedal and suspend enforcement of the law while “reviewing” it. That’s what they’ve done in other situations when someone called their bluff and that’s exactly what they’d do in this scenario.

      • skinnercitycyclist

         And that is EXACTLY what they did in Louisiana with their new voucher program.  Everything was cool until an Islamic school applied to the program and people began screaming and there was movement (by its own sponsors, IIRC) to withdraw the bill, but at the last minute the school withdrew with the comment that they did not want to jeopardize the whole voucher program.  The worst part of the story was the gutless response on the part of the school.  Huh, some jihadists.

  • Marguerite

    Even if Wiccans, Muslims, and other religious minorities try to take advantage of the law and “preach their beliefs,” I’m willing to bet that somehow, someway, they will be muzzled. Laws like this are designed to benefit Christians, and no one else. “Neutral criteria” have a strange way of somehow turning out less neutral than advertised.

    • http://www.facebook.com/people/Curtis-Scarbrough/1249249099 Curtis Scarbrough

      They’ll be muzzled via bullying, most likely. Tennessee, in general, doesn’t look kindly on non christian faiths. I can honestly see christian bullies getting away with their actions, because they’re just ‘proselytizing their beliefs’.

  • Sebastian

    A bit of a similar situation here, described by Matt Dillahunty on the Atheist Experience:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cjw6fVYJA1o

  • Cessna Aerobat

    I live in Tennessee and will write my state representative about this.  But I’m not holding out much hope – here’s how he responded last year when I wrote him about the “teach the controversy” bill:  

    From: David Alexander
    [mailto:rep.david.alexander@capitol.tn.gov]
    Sent: Wednesday, April 20, 2011 6:04 AM
    To: [XXXX]
    Subject: RE: HB0368

    Mr. [XXXX], Thank you for your email.  I did not get too many regarding
    this particular bill. Sir, I chose to vote for this bill because I believe it
    will allow teachers to teach any and all theories of creation.  We put
    them out there and allow students to think about them.  Once upon a time
    we adults taught that the world was flat.   David Alexander

    ________________________________

    • Gus Snarp

      AAARRRRRRGHGG!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

      I know I should expect these kinds of comments, especially of state legislators in the Bible Belt. But I’m still shocked and horrified every time someone elected to represent a sizable number of Americans utters something so incomprehensibly stupid. You have my sympathy. Oddly, my state rep is smarter than that, but I’m not so sure about my U.S. rep.

    • Gus Snarp

      AAARRRRRRGHGG!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

      I know I should expect these kinds of comments, especially of state legislators in the Bible Belt. But I’m still shocked and horrified every time someone elected to represent a sizable number of Americans utters something so incomprehensibly stupid. You have my sympathy. Oddly, my state rep is smarter than that, but I’m not so sure about my U.S. rep.

  • TiltedHorizon

    More wasteful legislature. In terms of education the US ranks ‘average’, scoring around 500 in categories which can score up to 1000 by the OECD Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) report. What will the “Religious Viewpoints Antidiscrimination Act” do about that? What? Nothing?  …crickets…

    http://www.oecd.org/dataoecd/61/2/48631582.pdf

  • Corey

    i just want to walk around the country with a shirt that reads: I Loved My Abortion (though im male), I Love My Boyfriend (though I am single), I Love Hoodies (just to piss off more white conservative Christians)

  • Corey

    i just want to walk around the country with a shirt that reads: I Loved My Abortion (though im male), I Love My Boyfriend (though I am single), I Love Hoodies (just to piss off more white conservative Christians)

  • Anonymous

    Somehow I suspect that whoever gets to select the  “select students” will make sure they are all christians…

  • snowmentality

    If I’m reading the article correctly and it’s representing the bill correctly, the “select students” are “only students in the highest two grade levels of the school and who also
    are a student council officer, football team captain, top class officer
    or other position of honor established by local schools ‘based on
    neutral criteria’.”

    So it’s essentially the “BMOC* can preach, everyone else can STFU” bill. Atheists, Muslims, Wiccans, etc. can only preach at school functions if they can get themselves elected class president or similar. Evidently your religious viewpoint only counts if you already have a lot of social power.

    *”Big Man On Campus”

    • Anonymous

      Agreed. Not only is this bill sure to create turbulence within the community, but I can only imagine the turmoil that will be caused in the school. As if there aren’t already special privileges dolled out in one form or another for being popular. This is sure to make children who are not Christian feel smaller and more unimportant within the school system than many of them already do. 

  • http://www.facebook.com/otakumommy Sheila Tagavilla Davis

    I just got done writing my representative and senator. Hopefully it won’t pass; however, nothing would surprise me about my home state anymore. The more the rest of the country progresses, the more we go backwards.

  • Uzza

    When you write your congressman, be sure to cite the Holy Book

    ” Make known
    that which has been revealed to you from your Lord, and if you don’t,
    then you have not delivered His message, and Allah will protect you
    from the people; surely Allah will not guide the unbelieving people” (Quran 5:67)and thank him for his support in spreading the Good News.

  • Uzza

    When you write your congressman, be sure to cite the Holy Book

    ” Make known
    that which has been revealed to you from your Lord, and if you don’t,
    then you have not delivered His message, and Allah will protect you
    from the people; surely Allah will not guide the unbelieving people” (Quran 5:67)and thank him for his support in spreading the Good News.

  • Skins

    I can already see this happening….”We cant let Muslims/Wiccans/Hindu’s/Atheist use this bill in our school because it will cause too much disruption/debate among the students…..”   Just like the Atheist bus ads….sad.

  • http://squeakysoapbox.com/ Rich Wilson

    I’m not sure which religion annoys me more: Christianity or HS Football.  But I’m sure they’ll make it up.  Title IX will force them to give equal time to the Cheer Captainette.

  • Mbarth Tn

    If this gets passed, maybe we can look forward to the Butler Act being re-enstated and maybe another Scopes Monkey Trial. So proud to be a Tennessean!!
    This state needs to pull its head out of its red-monkey ass!!!

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Michael-Knouff/500645233 Michael Knouff

    As a Christian, I believe these bills to be complete horseshit.


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