Amanda Scott of the Secular Coalition for Alabama has penned a comprehensive post reviewing their legislative session over the past year. Sarah Levin was so kind as to point this out and suggested we here in TN review our own current events in the General Assembly. Like Alabama, Tennessee has seen a multitude of anti-choice and anti-secular bills pass through the legislature in 2015. The Secular Coalition for Tennessee is beginning to organize to challenge these discriminatory acts. Several of the anti-choice bills have become possible due to the narrow passage of Amendment 1 last November, overriding the verdict of Planned Parenthood of Middle TN v. Sundquist and giving the General Assembly sweeping powers to control a woman's right to choose.
HB0977/SB1222 - Implements a 48 hour waiting period on procuring an abortion, among other restrictions. Physicians are required to post onerous warnings in 40-point font about informed consent, and are required to have admitting privileges at a hospital.
HB1368/SB1280 - Requires medical facilities performing abortions to be licensed as ambulatory surgical treatment centers.
HB0979/SB1221 - Prohibits state and local governments from subpoenaeing a clergy member's sermon for a civil or administrative action. This bizarre prohibition stems from the incident last October in Houston, TX, where Mayor Annise Parker sought information on a pulpit-organized movement to engineer the defeat of the Houston Equal Rights Ordinance (HERO).
HB0834/SB1246 - Authorizes local school boards to excuse students who attend religious moral instruction during school hours. The legislation allows the religious instruction to be credited as time attending school, and does not penalize the student for missing schoolwork during the release. Given the religious demographics in Tennessee, it seems that the bill will give an edge to religious groups seeking to "reach" students on school time.
HB0650/SB0202 - Requires the governor to designate the first weekend in August as "Tennessee's Weekend of Prayer over Students". Sponsored by Rep. John B. Holsclaw and Sen. Rusty Crowe, et al., the bill encourages all Tennesseans to pray against the "extreme challenges" faced by students, such as "peer pressure... negative influences in the media... gang activities..." &c.
HB1049/SB0999 - Enacts a school voucher scheme for students in the bottom 5% of public schools, which would funnel tazpayer funds to private religious schools. Currently in Finance, Ways & Means in the House.
HJR0071 - Proposes a constitutional amendment "recognizing that our liberties do not come from governments, but from Almighty God". Deferred in committee.
HB0615/SB1108 - Designates the Holy Bible as the official state book. Passed 55-38 in the House, deferred in the Senate. Gov. Haslam and Attorney Gen. Slatery both oppose the bill, rightly noting its blatant unconstitutionality at the state and federal level. One to watch for sure in 2016.
- SB0397/HB0566 - Allows counseling, social work, and psychology students in public colleges/universities to refuse to counsel patients based on their religious beliefs. Currently in Senate Education Committee.
- SB0775/HB0002 - Requires an ultrasound to be performed before abortion.
- SB0371/HB0296 - Prevents public discrimination based on gender identity and sexual orientation. Unfortunately failed in Senate Consumer and HR Committee.
Tennessee seems to be best at turning the clock back on progress. A great deal of freedom has been lost for Tennessee women, especially those of color, who are the disproportionate recipients of abortions. However, the slim margin of approval for Amendment 1 shows just how much Tennesseans, of both religious and secular stripes, are willing to defend choice when given a plain question.
In 2016, we will need your assistance in shaping the conversation to protect fundamental liberties for all Tennesseans, not just the religious. The General Assembly must hear that showing favoritism to religion goes against the will of the people, even among those of faith. We call on the members of the Assembly to enact legislation that respects the individuality and dignity of all its citizenry.